Editorial: It’s all about the children….isn’t it?

By Patric Hedlund
The item tumbled into my in-box this week: “Kern County Community Reading Project Seeks Volunteers.” Partially funded by United Way of Kern County, the project recruits and trains community members to become reading coaches for local second grade students. I called up Teresa Twisselman, coordinator of English Language Arts for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office (KCSOS): “The program is a perfect opportunity for community members who would like to make a positive impact in the lives of young students who are experiencing difficulties,” Twisselman said. “One hour a week is all it takes to help four children become successful readers.”

Volunteers attend a two-hour training session to learn the guided reading technique, then commit one hour, one day a week, for at least one semester. Semesters run September to December and January to May. During each visit a volunteer coaches four students individually for 15 minutes each. A different volunteer is in the classroom every day, assuring daily guided practice for the selected students.

“Last year, during the fall semester, 188 students saw their reading levels grow an average of 7.5 months, and in the spring semester the reading levels of 195 students averaged a growth rate of 8 months,” KCSOS said. That is an amazing 15.5 months increase in reading skills in just one year. Sign me up!

Volunteer training begins at the end of August in Bakersfield, but Twisselman said she will travel to the Mountain Communities to provide the training here—so volunteers don’t even need to commute for training. So, perfect, right?

Well, maybe not, unless things have changed in the El Tejon Unified School District. Unfortunately, last year we were told by Angela Witham, President of the California School Employee Association #552, that they will object to parents and community members volunteering in the schools.

How could this be?

When children need help, and volunteers are willing to provide it, why would people who care about education object to volunteers helping kids?

Witham said last year that her desires “as a grandmother” with grandkids at Frazier Park School are at odds with her goals as a union leader. She said that if teachers’ aides were not rehired by the district, that their union would object to community volunteers stepping up to fill the gap. The board of trustees and former Superintendent Kleier did not appear to challenge that position.

One of the most common-sense priorities for the ETUSD trustees right now must be to negotiate with CSEA to drop this tactic of holding children hostage.

To volunteer for the reading program, contact Teresa Twisselman, at (661) 636-4645. I put my name on the list this week. I hope you will too. Let’s see whether the needs of children will finally be given top priority by this district.

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This is part of the August 9, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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