January 12, 2012 in Washington Voices

Retired educators volunteer to assess students’ skills

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photoBuy this photo

Retired teacher Mary Lee Nickoloff works with kindergartner Roan Reilly at Central Valley Kindergarten Center on Monday. Retired teachers and principals have volunteered to assess students in their reading skills.
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When it comes to assessing kindergarteners’ reading skills, many schools turn to the various employees of the school – reading coaches, para-educators and more.

But at smaller schools, such as Central Valley Kindergarten Center, this can pose a problem. Their solution? They have called on retired teachers and principals to help assess students three times a year.

Principal Sasha Deyarmin said the program started in 2006 under former Principal Joanne Comer. Comer was looking for help in administering the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or the DIBELS, an assessment program that rates a student’s reading skills from kindergarten through the third grade. At the time, she started by gathering district administrators to do the assessments. The school then began recruiting retired educators. Deyarmin said the current list of volunteers includes three retired principals, three retired teachers and one stay-at-home mother who used to teach first grade.

Deyarmin said having former educators assess the students has been invaluable. The notes they provide the school have insights that someone without an education background may not have.

She also said the assessments are important to students at an age when reading is still a new skill. If they aren’t making progress, the school can work to make improvements.

“It tells us very early if we need to create some intervention immediately for our kids,” she said.

Terry Ellifritz has been volunteering at the Kindergarten Center since she retired four years ago as principal at Greenacres Elementary School.

She said she knows how hard it is to get through the DIBELS – each assessment takes about 20 minutes per student. The process can take about two weeks of pulling students out of class to assess them.

Students come in and look at some pictures and the volunteer asks them to identify which picture starts with a different letter sound. They are then asked to identify different sounds in a list of words. Then they take a look at a list of nonsense words and are asked to sound them out.

Ellifritz said she knows what a difference the volunteers make at the school. She particularly enjoys coming back in the spring to see how much the kindergarteners have improved over the school year.

“They’re darling,” she said of the students.

Sarah Phillips is a stay-at-home mother who used to teach first grade in Vancouver, Wash. She was recruited by her mother-in-law, Sandy Phillips, who worked for Central Valley schools. One of her own children attends the school, and she volunteers in other ways as well.

She also has first-hand professional experience with the DIBELS, so the information she is gathering for the school isn’t new to her.

The Kindergarten Center was created when schools in the Greenacres and Liberty Lake areas became too crowded. Deyarmin said they have been getting new students every day since the winter break. The school has three all-day kindergarten classes as well as four morning classes and four afternoon classes.

With more than 240 students to assess, Deyarmin said she is grateful to have qualified volunteers.

“It makes a big difference for us,” Deyarmin said.

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