Schenectady County

Schenectady library program mixes learning, fun

Tae Kwon Do and computer games are helping children learn to read this summer.

Tae Kwon Do and computer games are helping children learn to read this summer.

At the Duane branch of the Schenectady County Public Library, 20 first- to third-graders from Keane Elementary School are studying sight words and phonics for nearly three hours every morning. It’s tough work, though Schenectady City School District teachers are trying to make it fun with sight word bingo and other games.

The students were selected by teachers because they needed extra help with reading.

“They’re working hard,” said librarian Kaela Wallman.

What makes it worth it for the kids is the 30 minutes a day they spend on Tae Kwon Do or computers. Three days a week, they have Tae Kwon Do. The other two days include computer games on literacy.

The students earn Tae Kwon Do belts for learning their sight words — words they know without having to sound them out.

“They love it,” Wallman said. “I just knew I needed some kind of physical activity component. It’s important for the kids to be up and moving.”

The program is in its third year and is posting impressive results. If students attend at least 75 percent of the sessions, they improve in reading over the summer. Many other students “slide” during summer vacation, forgetting some of their skills, she said.

“I think this really does set them up for success in the school year,” she added.

One of the stars this summer is a 7-year-old who had struggled mightily in school. Shanice Parker has become the best student in the program.

“She’s just blossoming,” Wallman said.

Shanice’s mother, Virginia, is delighted. Shanice recently checked out a book from the library and brought it home.

“And she’s reading it,” Parker said, although she admitted she had to help with some words.

“But the rest of the reading, she did,” Parker said. “I see a lot of reading [now]. She was behind, but she wants to learn, she wants to read.”

Other children are getting one-on-one help from volunteers.

“We have one little boy with extreme focus problems,” Wallman said. “But we have great volunteers, and his attendance is good. I have no doubt he’ll make progress.”

The program is funded by grants from the Golub Foundation, the Schenectady Foundation and Berkshire Bank.

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