Reaching out Loud

Malena Ward

Delta Zeta house becomes an extension of the classroom for Lexington kids

Nebraska Wesleyan University students mentored Lexington Middle School students 170 miles away without leaving their Delta Zeta sorority house.

Technology made the arrangement possible.

Lexington Middle School teacher Ronda Maloley said she was looking for a way to entice her seventh-grade class of low-level readers to read when she stumbled upon the idea of pairing them with college role models.

From experience, she knew the effectiveness of using reading partners, a strong reader with a weaker one, for reading aloud.

While visiting with her daughter, Terah Maloley, at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Ronda Maloley realized she had found a source for her reading mentors.

Terah Maloley’s name was included on a Delta Zeta house list of girls needing community service hours. Ronda Maloley thought, “Why not have sorority members mentor middle school students using technological links?”

She developed the Reach Out to Read project to benefit the readers and their mentors.

“As a teacher, I can’t listen to my students read one-on-one every day. It’s just not physically possible,” Ronda Maloley said.

Her class has students with reading ranges equivalent to second through fifth graders. For some, the struggles come from language barriers, she said, because English is not their native or primary language. For others, the problem is motivation.

She wanted students to become better readers and enjoy the process so they would be lifetime readers.

Beginning in November, middle school students and four sorority members—Terah Maloley, Hannah Husmann, Rachel Powers and Hannah Smith—started meeting with each other three times each week through Skype.

Skype is a free online tool that allows users to see and hear each other on a computer screen while connected to the Internet.

During the reading sessions, the students and mentors take turns reading aloud. The mentors ask questions to assess understanding, help with pronunciation and define unfamiliar words. They read with expression and pause according to punctuation.

Vanessa Garcia, 13, said the program benefited her because she previously found it hard to focus on reading. “I would space off,” she said.

“When I read by myself, I kind of get distracted,” said Rayvin Kennon. She wrote, “I hate to read,” at the beginning of the year when she was supposed to set a reading goal.

Kennon admitted she was embarrassed at the thought of reading aloud to someone she didn’t know, “But when we actually got into it, I liked it,” she said.

Kennon now has a different outlook on reading. “I like to read aloud. It makes me understand the book more, and it helps me become a better reader,” she said.

The college students said they are gaining more than community service hours from the activity.

“Now, it’s for our enjoyment, too,” Terah Maloley said.

“Reading with them, it’s like you’re right there, almost,” said Husmann. She said she was surprised by the personal connection. “I care about how they’re doing in school.”

She noticed that student Abby Diaz stumbled over common words in the beginning. “Definitely by the end she was reading better and as fast as me. She improved a lot by reading out loud and with someone.”

Soledad Ruiz, 12, said, “What I like about Skype is I had someone to read with. I would know more about the book.” She said it helped her reach individual reading goals faster.

Ronda Maloley said she noticed Reach Out and Read motivated her students to keep up with the reading schedule because they wanted to be prepared for each joint reading session.

And, after finishing the book, Perfect, by Natasha Friend, Garcia begged Ronda Maloley not to select another book by that author for the class to read. Garcia said she liked Friend’s work too much to wait for her class, and she wanted to start reading more right away on her own.

“It is the first time in almost a semester of school that I’ve seen Vanessa excited about checking out a book,” Ronda Maloley said.

“We were all just as excited as they were. It was really rewarding to know we were making a difference in their lives,” Terah Maloley said.

The reading class and their mentors met face to face in January during a Tri-City Storm hockey game in Kearney.

“After the first day, one of the girls in our house logged on to Facebook and changed her status to ‘I had the most amazing day. I didn’t know that making a difference in someone else’s life could make so much difference in mine,’” Terah Maloley said.

She said other sorority members took interest in the project and more wished they were available to participate. One student studying abroad in Chile has since asked to be a part.

Terah Maloley sees great mentoring potential with Skype. “This could be a program that could open up to so many people,” she said. “I think it could open up unbelievable doors on what we could do with mentorship at the school.”

“I’ve taught a lot of years and there are always huge rewards to our job, but this is definitely on my top 10 list,” Ronda Maloley said.