Blugold fosters reading and literacy skills at local elementary school

| Lucy Grogan-Ripp

Is there any greater feeling than getting lost in a good book? Ask UW-Eau Claire senior Michaela Smith, and she’ll probably tell you this: the only thing greater than being consumed by great literature is being able to help a child while doing so.

Michaela, an english literature and psychology double major, is completing thirty hours of service-learning with Reading Partners, a program enacted at UW-Eau Claire that places college students in local elementary schools, where they aid children in literacy and reading comprehension.

Along with a few friends, Michaela discovered her service-learning project while attending the annual Community Action Fair, an event held on campus that facilitates community organizations to connect with students for service and volunteer opportunities.

“Every week, I meet with students at their school and we read several books together,” Michaela said of her experience. Most of the children taking part in the program have been referred by a teacher or specialist for certain literacy concerns, so Michaela tailors her service to benefit the specific needs of each child.

Depending on the needs of the child, Michaela provides them with learning tools such as vocabulary worksheets, phonics activities, and online reading support. “I try to balance learning opportunities with activities such as drawing and coloring to keep students engaged,” Michaela commented.

As reading and literacy comprehension are some of the most prominent skills we use each day, Michaela’s service to her community is an important one. Especially at the elementary age, Michaela says, the skills she is teaching these children are invaluable. She stated, “The mastery of this skill is especially important during the critical period around fourth grade, where children transition from learning to read, to reading to learn.”

For Michaela, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of her service-learning project has been the opportunity it has provided to bring together her fields of study to help others. “One of the most exciting and notable moments throughout this project happened when my studies directly converged with extracurricular educational opportunities,” Michaela noted; “I was able to apply those skills to the reading program.”

This past year, Michaela worked as a clinician in the Human Development Center on campus, where she was able to work with young students on reading fluency, and was invited to present about her experiences at a national convention.

“My peers and I presented our research on reading fluency at the National Association for School Psychologists annual convention in February,” Michaela explained. “While at the conference, I was able to sit in on some panels and seminars and learn more about fostering intrinsic academic motivation, supporting students living in unstable environments, and working with a diverse group of individuals facing various adversities.”

The insight she gained while conducting research and attending the convention came to fruition when she was able to take these support skills and apply them to a specific student she was working with. “One of the students I had been working with was dealing with a lot of challenges in their personal life, and I was able to provide them with some additional support and resources directly due to some of the experiences and knowledge I acquired through my research opportunities and coursework,” Michaela reflected.

In addition to her double major in english literature and psychology, Michaela is also pursuing a certificate in LGBTQ studies. Looking ahead, Michaela’s service-learning project has helped her narrow down her career goals, as she hopes to someday work with marginalized students as an advocate and support system.

“I am incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity to work with so many wonderful students over the past four years; I realized what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do with my degree through service-learning, and my goal is to become a school psychologist and work with minority students (particularly LGBTQ+ students) to advocate for them, support and foster their educational experiences as well as learning and growth both inside and outside of the classroom,” Michaela said.

Since its beginnings, service-learning has been a program that fosters coursework, fields of study, and career goals all while tying them together with services that benefit the community; Michaela’s project is no exception to this. Not only has service-learning helped her hone in on her dream career, but she was able to better the lives of children while doing so.

In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “The more that you read the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”