Campus: San Francisco State University -- June 14, 2004

SFSU students help children learn to read

The hallways of Lakeshore Elementary School, just blocks from SFSU, are lined with art projects, handwritten essays and photos of grinning children. Huddled around desks in the corners you'll find SFSU interns folded into kid-sized chairs and their young students, sounding out words, reading stories and sometimes playing noisy word games.

These are SFSU's Reading Assistance Program (or RAP) interns, a group of inspired, committed students who every week help at-risk children learn to read.

The interns tutor in one-on-one or small-group situations -- preferably for one hour a day -- addressing a variety of literacy issues including letter-sound relationships, fluency, sight/word vocabulary, self-confidence and enjoyment in reading and writing.

"I had no idea I would enjoy tutoring so much and meet such great kids," said Jasmine Wolfe, who has been tutoring for nearly two years. "I have learned many things, primarily how to be patient and that progress is often very slow. But when you finally see kids succeeding at something that you have both worked so hard to achieve, it all becomes worthwhile."

RAP, now in its fifth year, was founded by Helen Gillotte-Tropp, professor and reading coordinator in the English Language and Literature Department. It started with a call from a Lakeshore student's mother, who wanted to know if Gillotte-Tropp could design a program to help students who looked like they might fall behind their peers in reading level.

Remarkably, the mother who approached Gillotte-Tropp is the daughter of Jon F. and Mary A. Geisse, of the Ohio-based Geisse Foundation.

"It was through her that I was able to submit a formal proposal -- along with Lakeshore PTA and School Site Council, and eventually receive funding," Gillotte-Tropp said. The Geisse Foundation has funded RAP with more than $200,000 since its 1997 inception.

In developing the program, Gillotte-Tropp and English Lecturer Patricia Baldwin met with school administrators, PTA and faculty representatives to discuss needs and goals. Gillotte-Tropp and Baldwin then incorporated those ideas as well as current reading research and pedagogy into RAP's design.

Jennifer McNaughton, who began as an intern in 1997, now directs RAP. Under her watch, the number of RAP interns has doubled and the program now provides a tutor for nearly every classroom at Lakeshore, reaching kindergarten through fifth grade, and holds a family literacy night that is attended by about 300 parents, teachers and students.

"A lot of the kids make really good progress with their reading," McNaughton said. "Especially those who can have a tutor work with them for more than one semester, and we have some tutors that have stuck with the same kids for three years now."

SFSU's Office of Community Service Learning honored McNaughton for her dedication and commitment to RAP, giving her the Community Service Learning award for the College of Humanities at a recent awards ceremony.

The RAP interns said they really love working with the children and become emotionally invested in their success.

"The best thing about being a tutor is getting to know and support the students I am assigned to," said 22-year-old RAP intern Matias Cavallin. "Nothing gives me more satisfaction and pride than to see a student that I have helped succeed academically and personally."

Thanks to the Geisse foundation, RAP interns are paid an hourly wage, and the program continues to attract both undergraduate and graduate students.

Contact: Jennifer McNaughton, (415) 338-7030, jmcnaugh@sfsu.edu


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