Local tutor Eileen Keniston came out of retirement to help kindergarten though third-grade students at Parkbrook Elementary reach their full reading potential before the skill becomes critical to their learning.
Previously, Keniston spent approximately 27 years working in a call center, and she later spent time in the mortgage industry.
Three years ago, after retiring, Keniston’s daughter told her about a Minnesota Reading Corps, which is part of the larger nonprofit AmeriCorps. Her daughter was finishing her first year of tutoring and was preparing to begin her second.
“I decided since I always wanted to work in a school setting, I would go along for that ride,” she said. “She encouraged me. I figured she was my saving grace—if I didn’t get it, she was going to be answering all kinds of questions.”
Indeed, Keniston did get the job, and will be entering her fourth year with the corps this year.
The corps works to raise the reading proficiency of students who are falling behind their classmates in reading, to ensure that they are up to an appropriate level by third grade. That is, after third grade, schools hope that students are reading to learn, rather than learning to read.
Students are tested, then are selected for tutoring if they are found to be below the standard for their grade level for either or both number of errors and number of words read per minute.
Beginning in kindergarten, students first learn letter sounds, then later begin reading full words and passages.
In some cases, students are able to move forward without understanding the basic sounds in certain words, she said.
“I had a little student who knew certain words, but she didn’t know all of her letter sounds, so she was … supposed to go, ‘Sound, sound, sound, word,’… and she would do, ‘Correct sound, wrong sound, correct sound,’ but she would say the right word. … Finally the [coach] said, ‘This is something where this person has memorized certain words,’” she said.
While tactics vary from grade level to grade level, the one-on-one tutoring can help get students past the fear of making a mistake when read out loud, Keniston said.
“I’ve worked with a few kids that are afraid to make a mistake,” she said. “What they’ll do is, they’ll start reading and then just absolutely stop, they don’t know the word and they just sit there and they wait for someone to tell them what the word is and they don’t use the strategies they’ve learned.”
Tutoring is a rewarding experience for Keniston, she said.
“There’s no way to even describe it,” she said. “It’s like, going to some place where people recognize you, they really want to be with you. Just that cheerful greeting, that good feeling you get, and to see somebody succeed.
“There is nothing better than to see them succeed,” she added.
A personal relationship with students also can play a factor in improving reading ability, Keniston said.
“Knowing that somebody cares about what you’re doing … a lot of the kids may not have [encouragement] at home,” she said.