VSU Partnership Leads to an Interview with an Olympic Hopeful

March 27, 2012

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU Partnership Leads to an Interview with an Olympic Hopeful

VALDOSTA -- Every Tuesday and Thursday, Dr. Gina Doepker can be found on the second floor of Westside Elementary School helping a special group of third graders develop the skills necessary to become effective communicators.

The Valdosta State University Department of Early Childhood and Special Education professor works with the students using a balanced approach to reading instruction, focusing on vocabulary; fluency; writing, decoding, and comprehension strategies; and other skills. When the 2012-2013 school year rolls around, students at Westside Elementary School who require extra reading support will work one-on-one with volunteers from the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education-based Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center.

On Tuesday, Doepker talked to the Westside Elementary School students about the London 2012 Olympic Games, which are set to begin on July 27. She shared with the boys and girls some information about the history of the Olympic games and asked them to design their very own Olympic flag. She then delivered a bit of good news.

The 18 students in Linda Taylor’s reading class had been selected to represent the Peach State and interview an Olympic athlete through the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center Kids Ask Questions Project. Gymnast Andrew Elkind, a member of the United States Men’s Senior National Team, answered the students’ questions on video, which can be viewed at http://csotcathletelife.blogspot.com/.

“This is great, great news,” Creacy Sermons, Westside Elementary School principal, said as the students, including 8-year-old Alex Miller and Jasmine Gibbs, celebrated.

In the coming days, Doepker said the students will write letters to their favorite U.S. Olympic hopeful. She said they were encouraged to read about the Olympics and the men and women who hoped to be chosen to represent the USA at the 2012 summer games.

Taylor noted that Doepker’s efforts are making the third graders in her reading class better communicators, better readers, and better writers.

“This is a wonderful partnership between VSU and Westside,” she said. “It’s amazing the difference something like this makes in these kids’ lives.”

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 kindergarten through five, but programs are being developed for middle school and high school 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.

• 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.

• 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. The third graders from Westside Elementary School are set to film the first series on April 19. They will be recommending books related to the summer Olympic sports they have been reading about all semester.

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

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.

For more information, please contact Dr. Gina Doepker, Ruby R. Sullivan Literacy Center director and professor in VSU’s Department of Early Childhood and Special Education, at (229) 333-5625 or gmdoepker@valdosta.edu.