Improving Early Learning—Grade-Level Reading, One Student at a Time

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5-year-old Derrion


Helping students achieve their full potential is in Martha Register’s blood, and that’s a good thing for the young children who visit the Seminole County Reading Lab.  Even though the former high-school teacher and elementary-school principal has been retired for 10 years, she is one of about a dozen volunteer tutors who provide individualized instruction to students in the Reading Lab each week.

Register also serves as chair of the Seminole County Family Connection Collaborative Board, and volunteers her time tutoring children in a program at a local church. “Sometimes it’s just that personal attention by someone the child knows cares about his progress that helps,” she said. “Couple that with a curriculum focused on helping 4- and 5-year-olds become better readers, and success is imminent. The Reading Lab uses Starfall, an online program that teaches children to read through a phonics-based approach.

Attending the lab twice a week, pre-k students participate in 15-minute sessions while kindergarteners’ sessions are 30 minutes.

“We certainly see progress with all the children,” Register said. “While I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint the one factor that is making the difference, I can definitely see improvements in their knowledge and attention span.”

Five-year-old Derrion is an enthusiastic kindergartener who attends the reading lab. His grandmother Lorene Bennett, 58, who has cared for Derrion since his birth, says her grandson has flourished with the additional help. “He is doing well,” she said. Derrion, who was born two months premature, was referred to the reading lab because he was struggling with recognizing sight words. The young reader recently achieved a perfect score when tested on 70 words.

Identified by their teachers as needing extra help with their reading, students look forward to going to the lab, Register says, which makes the instruction fun and therefore well received. “They enjoy the reading lab and using the Starfall program,” she said. “They always seem to look forward to it, and I can see the improvement in their ability from the start of the school year to the end.”

Starfall has been used in the Reading Lab since its inception three years ago, and parents are encouraged to take advantage of resources and materials that will help foster their child’s early learning and literacy experiences at home. But like many of the education professionals in Seminole County, Register lamented over the challenges in the low socio-economic community—unemployment, single-parent households, and drug addiction to name a few. Nonetheless, she, too, is quick to point out the commitment everyone in the county has to the children.

“As both an assistant principal and principal,” said Register, “I never met a parent who didn’t want to see his or her child succeed in school.”

Diana St. Lifer is a professional writer with more than 25 years’ experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, a post-B.A. certificate in child advocacy, and is a certified professional life coach who specializes in teen and adolescent issues.

 “As we began talking about things we could do to make a difference in our county, the one thing that kept coming up was our grade-level reading scores, ” said Beth Capuson, chair of the Seminole County Family Connection Collaborative. “We had several meetings, and at the end it was clear to everyone that we needed to do something that focused on helping our children read better.”
Read “Early Intervention in Seminole County Helps Struggling Students Become Better Readers.”

Low birthweight, childhood obesity, and a literacy gap are serious threats to the well-being of Georgia’s families and children. Recognizing the impact these pressing issues have on the state’s health, safety, and ability to prosper, Georgia Family Connection Partnership has launched three initiatives dedicated to developing and implementing strategies that address these key indicators.
Read “Eleven Family Connection Collaboratives Team Up to Tackle Key Indicators of Child and Family Well-Being.”