Students in Cal U's reading specialist program help children as part of master's degree capstone.
Danielle DeCarlucci, a kindergarten teacher and current Cal U graduate student, reads with James Walker, 7, during the Childhood Education Department's summer reading program.
Casey Giles arrived at Cal U clasping a stack of stars.
One by one, he distributed them — with words like “want,” “pretty,” “please,” and “ate” written on them — throughout the third floor of Keystone Hall.
“We’re going to do a little scavenger hunt with Keagan using vocabulary words,” Giles explains. “She has a lot of energy and likes to move around. So we’ll use this activity to get her moving while she practices recognizing sight words.”
The best learning, he says, is when kids don’t realize it’s happening. They build self-confidence and have fun, all while developing literacy skills.
That’s the idea behind the reading clinic held each summer at Cal U.
Giles — a 2008 Cal U grad and a kindergarten teacher at Rostraver Elementary School in the Belle Vernon Area School District — is one of 15 students about to graduate from the reading specialist master’s degree program. The capstone to the course is the summer reading clinical practicum.
For five-and-a-half weeks, three hours a day, reading specialist candidates work one-on-one with a child to conduct and analyze literacy assessments and implement intervention and enrichment lessons to foster strategic thinking and an interest in reading and writing.
Categories for assessment and improvement include reading comprehension, fluency and vocabulary.
At the end of the summer program, the reading specialist students provide recommendations for the parents and the child’s classroom teacher.
Danielle DeCarlucci, who earned her bachelor's degree from Cal U in 2013, teaches kindergarten at Pleasant Valley Elementary in the Peters Township School District.
“We’re working on comprehension and short vowel sounds and decoding — how sounds turn into words,” she says of her student, James, age 7. “It’s rewarding to see where a child may be struggling a bit and design ways to build improvement strategies on that.”
“Most of our students are already classroom teachers,” says program coordinator Dr. Diane Fine. “We emphasize the one-on-one work with the children, and it gives our master’s students a chance to learn from each other. The summer reading clinic is the experience our reading specialists love the most, because it brings together the assessment piece and the instruction piece.”
“The online format makes it possible to complete the program, because you can teach during the day,” says Samantha Brickley, a long-term substitute teacher who earned her undergraduate degree from Cal U in 2014. “But the on-campus reading clinic practicum turns out to be awesome, because it puts assessment and instruction all together. It’s a good hands-on capstone, very manageable, because it happens during the summer, and very valuable.”
“The children love it, too,” Fine says, “because it’s more like camp instead of school.”
Craig Rechichar has two daughters, Lena and Eva, ages 8 and 6, enrolled in the program. Lena participated in the program last year.
“We’ve noticed an improvement in Lena’s reading skills,” Rechichar says. “When she reads to us, she is a lot more confident in doing so.
“It’s educational, but it’s also fun. We often overhear them playing school at home — they call each other Miss Lena and Miss Eva — and we know they’re repeating the lessons they’ve learned here.”