DIANE MAKAR MURPHY HOSTS volunteers teach kids to read, one at a time

It's called HOSTS, and it has a simple premise: Help One Student to Succeed.
Through the Ohio Reads Initiative, HOSTS volunteers, led by HOSTS teacher Sandy Zians, are helping pupils at E. J. Blott Elementary in Liberty -- one at a time.
HOSTS Language Arts is a structured approach to teaching language arts via volunteer tutors. It depends on extra attention, encouragement, and a skillfully arrived at lesson plan for each pupil who participates. The goal: successful readers and writers.
"Last year, of 50 fourth-graders who participated in the program, 100 percent had some gain; 70 percent had gains of one to three years [in reading levels]," Zians said. The results were measured by standardized assessments.
"I am absolutely pleased," she said of the schools decision to use HOSTS. Zians rushes about helping first this pupil, then that mentor, finding papers, giving instructions in her crowded mentoring classroom laboratory. Her wavy, deep red hair is cut short. A dark brown turtleneck and slacks fit her diminutive form closely, as her high heels click along the floor. This is a person with a lot to do.
This year, five classes in third grade have joined five in the fourth to participate in HOSTS. About 60 children identified as needing extra help will benefit this year. About 200 have benefited since the program's inception three years ago.
'Extra boost': Classroom performance along with psychologist or teacher referrals and assessment tests may land a child in the HOSTS program, where he or she will get "an extra boost." Most participants start out a year behind in reading skills.
A diagnostic test on the first day of mentoring evaluates reading skills, which leads to a lesson plan from the HOSTS program. "The ones they miss are fed into a very sophisticated software program that gives a detailed prescription for teaching that child," Zians said. Each child ends up with an individual folder and a lesson plan which Zians writes weekly based on the child's computer-generated prescription.
Grant: An Ohio Reads grant allowed the purchase of the software and many other materials used in Blott's program.
Zians has organized all her books into levels. Pupils will find they are challenged, but can read successfully. "We match our books to readers and it's working," she said. Grant money has helped buy many materials.
Participants also write in a journal once a week, learning to respond to a prompt, and to edit their work.
"We feel this program is doing a nice job," said Zians, who has 26 years of teaching experience. "We have wonderful teachers doing a nice job, but they have large classrooms and it's nearly impossible to work one-on-one daily."
But mentors get to spend that extra time, allowing pupils four half-hour mentoring sessions a week, usually with four different mentors. Mentors, who were trained in the fall and have committed to at least one hour a week for the year, pick up student folders and follow the lesson plans. While not able to deviate from plans, mentors are welcomed to give recommendations to Zians.
As children improve, they are "phased out" of the program, but mentors often come back again and again.
"We have 158 wonderful mentors. We have students, mentors from synagogues and churches, local businesses, and more," Zians said. Before 9-11, the 910th Airlift Wing sent volunteers as well. "We have people coming in on their lunch breaks."
Zians' classroom, partitioned into little study cubicles, is busy from 9:30 to 3:30 daily playing host to HOSTS. "Students love coming!" she said.
"I don't even think it's only the success of the program; it's bringing the community into the school. That's so important," Zians said. "I think it's making a positive difference."

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