Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Literacy Clinic helps more than 100 children
bridge summer interruption in reading, writing

August 31, 2009

by Mark McGowan

America Reads tutor Trisha Marcum and her student Michael Finnan at work at the Northern Illinois University Literacy Clinic.

Children love summer vacation but, for many, the months away from school can erode their academic abilities.

That’s not true, however, of the more than 100 children who received free tutoring through America Reads. The NIU Literacy Clinic offered the federally funded initiative for six weeks during June and July, providing the one-on-one tutoring.

“Summer is a time when children oftentimes lose some of the skills they’ve acquired in school,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, director of the clinic and a Presidential Teaching Professor in the Department of Literacy Education. “It’s important for them to keep reading and writing and practicing in the summer so, when they return to school in the fall, they’ve been able to maintain their skills.”

For the clinic, located inside the NIU Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center on Sycamore Road, it made for a busy place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

Young readers came from local schools, including Brooks, Chesebro, Cortland, Jefferson and Littlejohn, and from nearby towns such as Kingston, Kirkland, Somonauk and Waterman. NIU undergraduate students worked as tutors, working with each child for two hours each week. A grant from Jewel-Osco provided snacks.

This summer marked the largest summer edition of America Reads at NIU.

The NIU Literacy Clinic has provided America Reads services for several years as an afterschool program during the fall, winter and spring months. Those services also are provided in several DeKalb elementary schools during the school day.

“We definitely consider this summer a success. Many students made great progress in their reading and writing, and the feedback from their parents was extremely positive,” Elish-Piper said. “We would like to continue to offer this program in future summers.”

“The tutors really carried the ball this summer,” added America Reads coordinator Wendy McBride, a graduate student in the Department of Literacy Education. “They took their training seriously and approached each session with incredible enthusiasm and excitement. It was infectious. The children raced in every day, eager to see what the tutors had planned.”

The clinic also used the summer to bring literacy support to Spanish-speaking children. A grant from the DeKalb-Sycamore chapter of Altrusa purchased the bilingual materials.

“We’ve seen an increasing number of children in our local schools who speak Spanish as a primary language,” Elish-Piper said. “We know how important it is to provide tutoring to them in their native language while also building their skills in English.”

Call (815) 753-1416 for more information.