Elms College's program for graduate teaching students marks a quarter century of helping improve the reading skills of children in western Massachusetts.

Summer Reading Program Turns 25

14-year-old Kimani Poles of Springfield reads to Daniel Corpes, 7, of Springfield during the Summer Reading Program 2014.

Summer Reading Program Turns 25

For 25 summers, Elms College graduate students aiming to become licensed reading specialists have spent five weeks in June and July helping children with reading difficulties get the tools – and the confidence – they need to become good readers.

Parents bring their children to Chicopee from all over the area – Westfield, Springfield, East Longmeadow and Wilbraham to name a few – for the two-and-a-half hour daily sessions.

“It’s a remarkable program,” its new director, Suzanne Rene, said. “And the staff is incredibly hardworking and dedicated.”

The program offers high-quality, individualized reading assessments and approaches and is primarily staffed by experienced teachers who are finishing licensure requirements as reading specialists within Elms’ Master of Arts in Teaching.

The program provides MCAS preparation for students entering third grade and above in the fall, with the goal of improving the children’s silent reading comprehension of both fiction and nonfiction and to improve expository writing skills.

This year there were 48 students, with nine teaching staff, so the average was only five or six students per teacher.

It was started in 1989 by Professor Emerita Beth Young, Ed.D.

“The first time we had it on campus, we had seven students and three grad students,” Young said, of the two rooms in the program occupied in Berchmans Hall. “Then we went from 15 to 30 or 40 students, and we had to start hiring some of our previous grad students to come and teach. Then it just kind of exploded.”

In the summer of 2013 the program rented space at Holyoke Catholic High School, where it was also located this summer.

“Often times we find that children prosper in our program because it is very student-centered,” Young said. “We start with what they know, not what they don’t. It’s all very positive.”

Young retired after the summer of 2013 program and Rene, who herself started in the program as a graduate student, officially took over the reins this summer.

“We provide a sense of confidence that they can do it,” she said. “Some students make a year’s progress in the five weeks.”

Parents Appreciate Progress

Like many parents who enroll their children in Elms’ Summer Reading Program, Linda Socha learned of it through a recommendation from the reading specialist at her children’s school. All three of her children – Ariana, 10, C.J., 9, and Katherine, 8 – have attended the program for years, making the trip from Wilbraham to Chicopee each weekday for five weeks because she sees the impressive results firsthand.

“They are all reading at grade level due to the program,” Socha said. “We will participate as long as we can, because they always go back to school stronger and it keeps them in a routine.”

Elms employee Craig McDonald’s son and daughter, ages 6 and 7,  also attended the program this summer.

“They both had very positive experiences,” McDonald said. “We were so pleased that their reading skills increased significantly during the program. Their reading abilities had been somewhat behind where they needed to be for their grade levels, but after having completed the program and its related assessments, both of my children can now read at advanced levels compared to the grades into which they are entering this fall.”

That they also had fun and made new friends was a bonus, he added.