When Allison Baer, Ph.D., watched a mother entertain her pre-school son with a Nintendo DS, she decided that The Clubhouse needed to add a story time to its curriculum. It’s just one of the many changes that Baer envisions for the College of Education’s literacy outreach program, which offers tutoring services for area schoolchildren.
With the dual purpose of providing Hancock County’s struggling readers with a safe and encouraging environment, and creating an authentic environment for UF’s education majors, The Clubhouse is experiencing a continued demand for tutoring. Baer is brushing up her grant-writing skills to garner funds for one-on-one tutoring and extras like providing a story time for younger siblings while they wait for a sister or brother in The Clubhouse program.
“In my short time at The University of Findlay, and with the consensus of my colleagues, I’ve encouraged a departure from a clinical model for The Clubhouse, since most of our graduates won’t be working in a clinical setting,” Baer said. “In a classroom setting, they’ll need to know how to assess and remediate reading problems quickly.”
Reading and teenagers
Baer joined The College of Education in January 2012 as coordinator of The Clubhouse and faculty member. With a graduate degree in reading and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in literacy, she encourages reading, especially among adolescents and middle-schoolers. She applauds the popularity of young-adult books like “The Hunger Games” and the “Harry Potter” series, because they get kids involved in reading and learning to enjoy it.
“I don’t care if they read ‘Baby-Sitters Club’ or ‘Goosebumps’,” Baer added. “You can often move kids to a higher level of reading, once they’ve enjoyed these types of books.”
Baer also feels that there’s a misperception that “real” readers only read fiction. UF students as well as young students attending The Clubhouse often feel they don’t read because they may not care for novels.
“I tell them that they’re actually reading all the time,” she laughed. “They’re reading signs, advertisements, text messages and even T-shirts. It’s real reading.”
Having worked previously in Michigan with adolescent students and incarcerated youth, Baer feels there’s a connection between not being able to read and behavior problems.
“In my experience as a middle-school teacher, if children can’t read by the sixth grade, they start labeling themselves as ‘stupid’ and they definitely don’t want to be stupid,” she added. “It’s almost like they tell themselves, ‘I’ll do bad things or be the class clown, but I won’t be stupid.’”
Although the rapid development of technology and increased exposure to television have been blamed for poor reading levels, Baer doesn’t feel that reading problems are more prevalent today than they were 20 years ago.
“It’s just that kids have more to sort out,” she said. “For instance, they need to know how to judge a website for credibility. We also have so many more nonfiction books for kids now, and more picture books. There are just a lot more materials for them to learn how to navigate.”
Reading as a touchstone
Baer comes to UF from Western Michigan University (WMU) where they offered a freshman seminar as part of the First-Year Experience program. She taught the class for four years and used literature circle books as a touchstone to teach college-level skills such as undergraduate research, working on group projects, etc.
“Freshman students are looking for something to hold on to during this time of transition. Since they’re faced with so many new things, I revised my section of the seminar to focus on just a few topics.”
“I’m very impressed with our program here,” Baer said. “UF students are out in area schools during their first semester. At other colleges, they may not do this until junior year.”
The Clubhouse evolves
Taking up three rooms in the College of Education’s Davis Street location, The Clubhouse serves 55 students from pre-kindergarten through the seventh grade. The majority, however, are in grades 1-3. The program is staffed by UF undergraduate and graduate students in the college’s Assessment and Diagnosis class. The class meets on Monday and Thursday from 5 – 8 p.m., with children arriving at 5:30 p.m. and leaving at 6:45 p.m.
The main focus for Clubhouse “members” is on comprehension skills. They also work on fluency and vocabulary development as well as other relevant reading skills. The program is free of charge to any area student who needs help, and offers math tutoring in the fall sessions.
If there’s anything that’s certain in the field of education is that it’s always changing, and Baer wants her future educators to be able to adapt quickly to meet the needs of students. She occasionally throws them a curve and happily observes how they deal with it.
“A few weeks ago, not long before the kids came in, I told the tutors that they couldn’t use tables and chairs. We had lots of kids sitting on floors and bean bag chairs using clipboards, but also lots of really innovative ideas on how to deal with this sudden change.”
“Currently, we have approximately three students per tutor and I’d like to get that down to no more than two students,” Baer added. “My goal for this coming summer is to expand our service to offer more one-on-one tutoring. There’s a big need for this in our area, but it will take more funding.”
Additional funding through grants and contributions as well as developing partnerships with schools and community groups are on Baer’s agenda for the coming months. Organizations interested in learning more about literacy and The Clubhouse program can contact Baer at 419-434-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.