Many HWS students assist young readers in surrounding schools as America Reads tutors. In light of this fact, a service learning project during the 2009 spring semester was conducted by psychology major Stephanie Wells ’10, Assistant Professor of Psychology Julie Kingery and elementary school teachers at North Street and West Street Elementary Schools. Their America Reads efficacy study examined changes in students’ reading abilities and self-esteem across the school year.
The previous fall, Wells spoke with Kingery about doing an independent study to gain more experience in the field of psychology. “As a psychology major with the goal of achieving a Ph.D in clinical psychology, I knew that I had to gain research experience in my undergraduate career,” she says, adding Kingery gave her the opportunity to take a leadership role on the America Reads Evaluation Project.
Wells was put in charge of contacting the schools, administering the self-esteem surveys, sending home teacher, parent and tutor questionnaires, and collecting and analyzing the data. At the end of the semester, Wells presented the findings at the Engaged Scholarship Forum.
“These results show that participation in the America Reads Program has a positive effect on children’s reading ability, attention span, and general interest in reading,” explains Wells. “Although the students’ global and academic self-esteem did not improve from the beginning to the end of the school year as we had expected, their self-esteem remained stable.”
The study also found that more than half of the parents reported reading to their children either several times a week or daily. “It is encouraging that the skills children are learning in America Reads are being practiced with parents and other caregivers at home,” Wells says. “Future research with a larger number of children involved in America Reads will help us to continue to understand the impact of this program on children’s reading skills and well-being. Overall, these findings show how one-on-one tutoring programs such as America Reads can be effective in helping elementary school children with reading difficulties.”
Wells has worked alongside Katie Flowers, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, for the past three years as a student assistant and Bonner Leader. She wanted to conduct an independent study, but also wanted it to benefit others.
The feedback her results provide will benefit Flowers, teachers and parents as they work with the America Reads Program. However, Wells also benefited by learning how to conduct research in a school environment, analyze and present data. She says she feels “More connected with the Geneva school system and I felt as if I positively contributed to this community I have been a member of for the past three years.”