December 4, 2012
2-334

Jessica Pope
Communications Specialist

VSU Literacy Center Helps Children Love Reading

VALDOSTA — Derrick Sinclair III likes to read books. Go, Dog! Go! by P.D. Eastman is one of his favorites.

Twice a week, the St. John Catholic School kindergarten student and his family make their way to Valdosta State University, where he participates in the Blazing Through Books Program at the Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center. He started when he was just 4 years old, and now, a year later, he has developed an obvious love of reading — as well as a few new skills.

“We heard about the [Ruby R. Sullivan] Literacy Center from another family, and we have thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Derrick Sinclair Jr., who, when not transporting his son to VSU every Monday and Wednesday, serves and protects as an officer with the Remerton Police Department. “Here, at the Literacy Center, reading and learning is fun for him; he gets more frustrated with Mom and Dad. His peers are here, and they all seem to enjoy it. It’s amazing what he has accomplished. He can read. He will try and read everything. He likes books. He’s learning new words. He’s having fun.”

At home, Derrick Sinclair III reads to his sister, Leah Sinclair, 4. Derrick Sinclair Jr. noted that he and his wife, Catherine “Katy” Sinclair, are already seeing how their son’s love of reading is positively affecting their daughter’s interest in reading.

“Last year Derrick was in the Blazing Through Books prekindergarten group, and we were mainly focusing on having him learn his alphabet and letter sounds,” said Dr. Gina Doepker, Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center director and an associate professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Special Education. “He was able to read simple concept books — one word per page — at that point. This year he is able to read simple sentences and write simple sentences. His literacy development is on target for a kindgartener. We are very proud of his literacy growth.”

The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center’s mission is to be an integrated system of care for the children and families of Valdosta and surrounding areas with a focus on building children’s literacy skills, motivation, and confidence. The center serves children in grades first through fifth, but programs are being developed for middle school and high school students, as well as prekindergarten and kindergarten students, said Doepker.

The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center offers several programs designed to help children in the elementary grades build literacy skills, gain confidence, and be more motivated to want to read for both pleasure and study:

• Literacy Education Assessment Program (LEAP): This is a literacy tutoring program that involves VSU pre-service teachers assessing the community children’s current literacy skills, developing specific literacy goals, providing one-on-one research-based literacy instruction and intervention, and monitoring the children’s literacy development progress. Students in LITR 4120: Literacy Assessment and Applications work with the children, gaining experience in assessing and planning appropriate literacy remediation.  

• Blazing Through Books Program: This feeder program for LEAP pairs VSU athletes and students with community children in one-on-one and small group literacy skill-building activities, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Cindy Kovach, a full-time instructor in the Department of Early Childhood and Special Education and lead teacher for the program, said Derrick Sinclair III and other children come to her twice a week for 50 minutes at a time. Pairs of students from LITR 3110: Emergent Literacy read a book to the children as a group and then lead them through a fun, but educational, lesson related to the story. Kovach noted that the purpose of this program is to get the children excited about reading, work on basic literacy skills, and expose the children to different genres.   

• Multidisciplinary Child Advocacy Team (M-CAT): Through this program, any and all departments at VSU, as well as interested community organizations, provide identified services for the community children and families, such as comprehensive assessments, health screenings, family support and therapy, content area tutoring, shadowing opportunities, adult literacy, and much more.

• Dear Blazer Buddy: This is a pen pal program that pairs community children with VSU athletes and students. It is designed to get the children involved in a reading and writing activity that is fun and motivating.

• Blazer Books Television Series: This is a developing program that gives all VSU faculty, staff, and students, as well as area public schools, organizations, and others the opportunity to read and/or recommend their favorite childhood book on camera.

• Gifted and Talented (G&T) Club: This group was formed for those children who exceed their grade-level reading proficiencies but still want to participate in the program. It focuses on helping them extend their literacy competencies by providing more challenging reading and writing experiences. Participants have worked their way through the Blazing Through Books Program and the Literacy Education Assessment Program (LEAP).

“I am overcome with such joy to know that the different programs in the [Ruby R.] Sullivan Literacy Center are helping these children to become readers and writers,” said Doepker. “It also make me quite proud to know that not only do we provide literacy support, but we are also providing the parent education series and health screenings through the College of Nursing and the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

“I am truly working toward become a system of care for the children and families of the Valdosta area and surrounding areas. I am working toward starting a preschool program, middle grades program, high school program, adult literacy program, and family literacy program. This comes with much planning, organization, resources, space, and financial support. We will always be evolving as I see the need to expand our services.”

VSU has had some sort of literacy outreach initiative since 1989.

The Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center will resume its programs on Jan. 28. Space is available for children in grades first through fifth who would benefit from reading assistance. Volunteers are always needed for the Blazing Through Books Program, Multidisciplinary Child Advocacy Team, and Dear Blazer Buddy.

According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, approximately 10 million children in the United States have difficulty reading. Of these children, 10 to 15 percent eventually drop out of high school and only two percent complete a four-year college degree.

Contact Dr. Gina Doepker at (229) 333-5625 or gmdoepker@valdosta.edu for more information.