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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU expands American Reads Challenge program in schools, community

New Mexico State University will receive $114,000 in federal funds this academic year to continue sending reading tutors to the public schools and expand the program to Head Start centers and local community centers.

NMSU tutor Ana Avalos works with 4-year old Erin Lara at the NMSU Preschool. Avalos teaches children to connect dots and draw circles from left to right to get them ready to write. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

This is the second year NMSU's College of Education is participating in a national project supported by the America Reads Challenge Act of 1997. The America Reads Challenge project reaches low-achieving children in high poverty areas. It aims to teach children to read well and independently by the end of third grade.

NMSU's program supports 25-30 tutors per semester, mostly from the education college. Some work with children in grades K-5 at Valley View Elementary School in Las Cruces, La Mesa Elementary School in the Gadsden School District and NMSU's preschools. Others are assigned to the county's seven Head Start programs, the adult literacy center at Dona Ana Branch Community College and the Gadsden district's Even Start program for native Spanish speakers.

Last year, NMSU received $50,000 in federal work-study funds to pay tutors to work with first-graders. This year, the university will receive $64,000 in work-study funds plus a grant of $50,000 to pay for supplies and cover administrative expenses.

College of Education Dean H. Prentice Baptiste said he was confident NMSU would receive work-study money for a second year, but the additional $50,000 in federal funds is icing on the cake. The federal government only allows work-study funds to pay students' salaries, so last year the education college scraped together money for books, paper, crayons and other tutoring materials.

This summer, Baptiste and Stanley Lopez, who directs the NMSU tutoring program, wrote a proposal for the $50,000 federal grant through the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. NMSU is the only New Mexico university to receive one of five grants, Baptiste said.

NMSU tutor Ana Avalos works with 4-year old Erin Lara at the NMSU Preschool. Avalos teaches children to connect dots and draw circles from left to right to get them ready to write. "At this age, everything kids do here relates to literacy," says Avalos.

(NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan

One-to-one tutoring can give children the boost they need to succeed in school and in life, Baptiste said. Children who can't read have problems learning math and science, and they drop out of school in greater numbers than competent readers, he said.

NMSU tutors are trained to support the schools' goals and teaching methods, Lopez said. The extra help is needed, he said, because "schools are stretched so thin and teachers need to do so much."

Tutors who speak Spanish are trained to work with bilingual children, Lopez said. "It is important to provide native literacy tutoring," he said. "Many children have limited skills in English but are literate in their native language."

By the end of one semester of tutoring, Lopez said, "You start seeing results, tremendous life changes not just in academics but in the whole social and emotional climate."

NMSU's 25-30 paid tutors work 15-20 hours per week. On a more limited basis, another 200 or more NMSU students in reading methods classes and multicultural education classes volunteer as tutors, Lopez said.

In the near future NMSU plans to expand the tutoring program through the local high schools and the university's branch campuses, Lopez said.