Teachers keep students reading

Published 8:58 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A group of Forest Glen Middle School teachers have teamed up this summer to make sure their students continue to learn during the break.

The seven-week “Wildcat University” summer reading program for Forest Glen Middle School students began at Morgan Memorial Library on June 26. Its second session was held on Monday at Suffolk Church of God on Kilby Avenue, where it will continue until its last session on Aug. 14.

FGMS English teacher Natalie Rotzler started the program to help 20 students study reading and writing. The students were picked based on last year’s SOL scores, showing that they needed more help in reading.


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“We needed to do something different,” Rotzler said.

Fellow teachers Caren Bueshi, Kerri Epperson and Barbara Espinosa are assisting Rotzler with the program’s various assignments.

Students rotate between stations in each session for 20-minute lessons on word analysis and reading comprehension based on fiction and nonfiction passages. They’re also encouraged to learn through games such as Apples to Apples. Rotzler said the summer reading program was modeled after lessons conducted during the school year that had positive results.

“They don’t realize they’re reading,” Espinosa said. “It keeps their interest more than some books.”

The program was funded by Sylvia Copeland-Murphy, founder of SCM Vision Inc., a non-profit organization focused on eliminating barriers to employment, health care and education for lower income residents in Suffolk.

The teachers approached Copeland-Murphy when they learned she was unable to hold her annual summer camp at Oak Grove Baptist Church, where she is an assistant pastor.

She said this new program will teach students discipline and make sure they don’t fall behind by not reading over the summer.

“They’re going to be ahead of the game, because they never stop learning,” she said.

Bueshi guided students through reading exercises with the novel “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper, asking them questions about that encouraged them to think critically about the novel’s plot and characters.

“I like the girl,” 14-year-old eighth-grader Mya Smith said about Melody, the novel’s protagonist. “She doesn’t care what anybody says about her disabilities.”

Bueshi said each activity in the program develops individual reading skills that will improve each student’s overall comprehension.

“We’re targeting skills on which they have the most difficulty,” she said.

Rotzler said that they also get to receive these lessons in smaller groups, which helps them enjoy the process more. This was confirmed by 12-year-old eighth-grader Megan Goodman, who said it’s easier to do the work with her friends from school.

“It’s fun,” she said.

Students will receive backpacks filled with school supplies at the end of the program based on their participation. They may also attend the “Hampton Roads Youth Got Talent” show being arranged by SCM Vision on Aug. 15 at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, a competition for children ages 7 to 18.

Rotzler said they will compare last year’s test scores to the student’s scores next year to judge whether the program was effective. Until then, she’s determined to keep her students focused on reading and encourage them to make it a habit.

“I love to read,” she said. “If we can find that hook to get them to want to read, it will be easier for them to be successful.”