November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Collaborating on the Summer Slide: University Students Tutor at Jacksonville Public Library

In a tutoring session to help students organize story ideas, Erika Orlowski, elementary education major, directed four boys seated around a table at the Southeast Regional Library, part of the Jacksonville (FL) Public Library system, to write a topic sentence on the top of a hamburger bun. The three main story ideas were to be written on a leaf of lettuce, a slice of tomato and a rather thick burger, with the finishing thought to be placed on the bottom of the bun─all drawn on paper, of course.

UNF summer students

Students at Southeast Regional Library work on story writing with Erika Orlowski, student tutor from the University of North Florida.

Orlowski, a junior at the University of North Florida (UNF), is one of 15 tutors participating in a unique collaboration between the university and the Jacksonville Public Library, initiated last year by Anita Haller, children’s services senior librarian at Southeast. The four-week project during the summer months, an expansion of the 2013 pilot program, focused on reading and writing skills for about 24 children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Under the direction of Dr. Katrina Hall, associate professor of literacy at UNF, the students first assessed the students’ reading and writing skills and then created activities and lesson plans to meet their needs.

When the burgers looked well done, Orlowski moved the boys to a game with vocabulary sight words on popsicle sticks. Nicholas, 9, smiled as he earned a large number of sticks for words he was able to read. Nicholas’s mother, Kim, said he has been enjoying the tutoring sessions. “He especially enjoys the games they play,” she said, “and looks forward to the sessions.”

UNF Tutoring program

Alex Giovagnoni, UNF student tutor, guides students on word puzzles.

At another table, tutor Alex Giovagnoni worked with Carsten, 5, and Ben, 7. Ben worked intently on a word search puzzle of state names, nodding to answer questions without taking a break from the puzzle. His parents, Sharline and Ben, brought young Ben and his brother because they are homeschooled. “We thought it would be a nice experience for them to work with someone else other than Mom or Dad,” she said, adding that Ben has “loved” the sessions.

He’s not alone. Haller, who sees the program as a benefit to all involved, hopes the university will collaborate with the library for many years to come.

“The library has long focused on creating a fun and welcoming learning environment for children,” Haller shared. “By adding the extra ingredient of academic attention from college students, we have improved the recipe for learning and demonstrated that the public library is truly a gateway to educational success.”

For the college students, Hall said the program provides an opportunity to see first-hand how the children react to the lessons and activities they have planned, which can be quite different from their assumptions.

“Anita Haller has really worked on our partnership and has always invited UNF into the library,” Hall said. “Southeast is the closest library to the school and the library community is very diverse, ethnically and socio-economically. My students have learned a great deal working with a nice mix of children.”

Marsha Blasco is a community relations specialist with the Jacksonville (FL) Public Library.

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