Project MORE unites students

SALINEVILLE — A special project at Southern Local Elementary School has junior high and elementary students working together so the youngsters can succeed in the classroom.

Teens visit third-grade students for four days a week as part of Project MORE (Mentoring in Ohio for Reading Experience), in which the upperclassmen assist the younger children in reading-based activities.

Linda Swearingen, school reading tutor, said the students have 40-minute sessions and participate in learning and fellowship.

“It was initiated by Principal Kristy Sampson,” she said.

Sampson asked the Title teachers to get it started and the program started small. They meet Monday-Thursday and the junior high students volunteer.

“There are about six seventh- and eighth-graders tutoring third-graders and we are going to add more students to it after Christmas and make it bigger,” Swearingen said. “They read a story at their reading level and go over vocabulary, do word skill activities and a lot of times there is a quiz they do at the end. Our goal is to improve their progress, and we will look at progress monitoring in January to see if we need to tweak the program.”

Groups also build verbal interaction and Swearingen says she has seen a positive response since the program began in late September.

“We usually work in the computer room and select materials based on their reading level, plus we use the ‘Reading A to Z’ online resource,” she said. “These mentors want to be here and the students want to be here with them.”

Meanwhile, Sampson explained Project MORE was a process used in other Ohio schools to provide focused individual help to improve skills for struggling readers.

“We have done the process differently each year,” she said. “It depends on financial resources as well as available personnel to be able to run it effectively. The students participate in the district benchmark assessments during the year to identify areas of weakness with reading skills.

Then teachers identify students and refer them to Mrs. Swearingen to begin the process.”

Sampson added that the students are paired with junior high mentors who have been trained by Swearingen and the students work together for at least a half-hour four times a week, while the online resources are used to help hone those skills.

“Some districts use adults from the community, but we chose to use the junior high and high school kids since they are right here on our campus,” she continued. “The activities that the struggling student and mentors work on are adjusted as the students make progress.”

Swearingen said officials were focusing on third-grade students because of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and want to make sure those students who are weak in certain areas have the most opportunities to improve themselves.

In turn, they become better readers and improve their abilities to pass their state assessment and move on to the fourth grade.

“In previous years, we have targeted grades 1-3, but the number of students we can serve with this process depends on how many mentors we have available,” she said. “We are hoping to add second grade next semester if we can get more mentors from the junior and senior high school.”

Sampson said Project MORE has been effective for both the younger students and their mentors. “We have seen positive results with both an increase of confidence in the students serving as mentors and the struggling readers, as well as increases in the struggling student’s skills and abilities in the classroom related to reading and peer interactions.”