By Kayla Peche
Elementary students from the Eau Claire area have the chance to read to a volunteer college student, in order to improve their reading skills. ©2012 Teresa Dallman
Johnny, * a fourth grader at a local elementary school, was insecure about his reading ability and got discouraged anytime he mispronounced or misunderstood a word. But in just a couple weeks, all that changed.
“It was powerful to see the improvement he made as he practiced his reading and became familiar with the types of books he was interested in,” said Rachel Grim, his reading partner tutor.
Without Jane Rockwell, the program coordinator for the Title I Reading Partnership Program, which is a program to help elementary students who are struggling with reading, none of that would have been possible. Rockwell links volunteers from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with elementary students who are struggling with their reading skills. She sets up events for the volunteers, their students and the students’ families, in order to make reading an important part of their lives.
“Jane is dedicated to the education of these students and is an excellent representative of the program and what it stands for,” said Teresa Dallman, a volunteer with Reading Partners.
Rockwell graduated from the UW-Eau Claire in 1978, where she majored in Secondary English Education. Her love for reading and writing started at an early age.
“I always knew how essential reading and writing is to our lives,” Rockwell said. “From high school on, I helped others edit their writing assignments.”
After college, Rockwell continued her passion of reading and writing. In 1992, she was certified as a literacy tutor for the Literacy Volunteers of Chippewa Valley. Then from 1995-2008 she tutored adults in reading and writing for the citizenship program.
“Until you work with a person from another country you don’t realize how well we have it in the U.S.,” Rockwell said. “They are looking for opportunity and a better opportunity for their children.”
Now she is back to her roots, working as a program coordinator for Reading Partners at UW-Eau Claire.
“Volunteering changes your life when you work with families who try so hard, not only in learning but with school life, work life, etc.,” Rockwell said.
This is Rockwell’s first year as the program coordinator for Reading Partners. She has already taken on tasks of setting up a literacy event last semester and plans to do one later in May. She is trying to get people involved in the program, so that the elementary students that need a volunteer will be able to have one.
“Reading Partners gives the elementary student a chance to meet with a volunteer college student in a relaxed setting, one hour each week that will generate the student’s love of reading,” Rockwell said.
The college volunteers who work with Rockwell say they appreciate her passion for the job.
“As I pursue the field of teaching, I will always carry her legacy as a role model of how to reach out to every student and celebrate every success along their journey of learning,” Grim said. “Jane’s dedication and commitment to the program is what keeps it going.”
Another college volunteer, Katie Conkell, is new to the program. Reading Partners and Rockwell have made an impression on her that she says persuades her to continue her involvement.
“I definitely plan to continue with the program through the rest of the year and hopefully next year too,” Conkell said. “It has been such a great learning experience.”
Rockwell said her involvement in the Reading Partners Program has been a positive one.
“This program benefits not only the elementary students, but makes an impact on the college volunteers,” Rockwell said.
Reading Partners is involved with schools in the Eau Claire School District. There are 140 students and 130 volunteers this year in the program. The elementary students are referred to the program if they are behind in their reading levels, or need extra practice in order to become more fluent in their reading ability. The college students volunteering with the program can meet the needs of course requirements or earn service learning hours that are required at UW-Eau Claire.
“This program also assists the teachers/parents in teaching their children,” Rockwell said.
As technology is advancing, so are the resources that Rockwell gives to the volunteers or students’ parents to enhance the reading experience.
“She gives me ideas for books I can use, and she has told me how to integrate technology into my sessions,” Dallman said.
The latest literacy event that Rockwell set up occurred May 3 at Carson Park. This was an opportunity for those in the program and any children to play and learn literacy skills all in one.
In Rockwell’s office, there is a picture of a quote she says is dear to her heart. Rockwell said it reminds her of the importance of helping others. The quote, from Helen Keller, reads, “Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others.”
* Johnny’s full name was not used in order to protect his privacy