Young Armory Students Are Building Literacy

NEWBURGH – For dozens of local elementary and middle school students, summertime means fun, sun, and a love of literacy at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center.

Through the Literacy Education Advocacy Program (LEAP), hosted annually at the Armory, graduate Education students from Mount Saint Mary College help children from Newburgh and the surrounding communities build confidence and reading skills, making sure that they’re ready to succeed in school come September.

LEAP is built into the grad students’ coursework. As in years past, the collaboration was spearheaded by Janine Bixler, professor of Education at the Mount. This year, she was aided by Brian Kimbark ’15 MSEd ’18, a second grade teacher at Bishop Dunn Memorial School and an adjunct professor of Education at the Mount.

The schedule was intense. Nearly two dozen Mount teacher candidates tutored the kids for four days a week over the course of several weeks. In addition, there were two sessions: one for younger children and one for kids approaching their teens.

Under the tutelage of the graduate students, the children – kindergarteners to sixth graders – spent the summer writing and illustrating their class book, N is for Newburgh: An Alphabet of Our City.

For N is for Newburgh, the young Armory students were each given a letter of the alphabet and researched the city for something interesting beginning with that letter. Subjects included Leo’s Pizzeria, the Dominican Center at Mount Saint Mary College, and more.

The young students then painted a picture of their subject and wrote a passage about it. On the last day of class, the children presented excerpts to their friends and families, to thunderous rounds of applause.

“Many of the students visited the sites themselves and took some photos, too,” explained Kimbark. “Doing everything from the research to the writing was a great experience for them.”

The class utilized the Picturing Writing technique, wherein students paint a picture of their subject first, so they can more easily express themselves through writing.

For the children, the sessions afforded in-depth, personalized learning opportunities and increased their literacy skills in a fun and engaging way.

“By improving their literacy, we’re giving these young students life skills, not just school skills,” said Bixler.

Kimbark added, “It’s all about fostering a love of learning and a love of reading.”

Megan Stacklum of Newburgh, N.Y., a third grade teacher at Bishop Dunn Memorial School and one of the Mount graduate students in the program, said that the two children she mentored increased their reading skills quite a bit.

“This really helped to increase the students’ confidence,” she explained. “My four-year-old student was a little shy at first and he had a hard time with the alphabet. Now he comes running in and is excited to learn.”

For the Mount teacher candidates, the graduate level course was a hands-on experience in real-world teaching. It really drove home the importance of differentiating instruction to reach as many learners in the classroom as possible, said Stacklum.

“Variety is a really important aspect of teaching,” she said, “Everyone is different and learns in different ways. To be able to accommodate students of different skill levels is a necessary part of being a good teacher.”

The Newburgh Armory has been changing young lives since 2010. From accessible literacy courses to helping children explore career paths, the Armory hosts a variety of educational programs. More than 500 students a week and their parents receive instruction on a variety of topics.

Armory founder William Kaplan, an entrepreneur and philanthropist from Newburgh, N.Y., takes a hands-on approach to the educational programs he’s worked so diligently to cultivate. For example, Kaplan proudly watched the students reading excerpts from N is for Newburgh recently, and the children personally thanked him for making the class possible.

LEAP at the Armory and other literacy collaborations are part of the Mount’s Collaborative for Equity in Literacy Learning (CELL). Established in 2012, CELL provides tutoring and out-of-school literacy activities for children pre-school to grade 12 with a focus on reading, conversation, and activities. It explores multicultural books, offers family literacy programs, and more. Each semester Mount teacher candidates, graduate and undergraduate, help instill a love of reading in local youth as part of their community fieldwork requirement.

Mount literacy programs are held in the Newburgh Armory on Saturday mornings, weekday mornings in the summertime, and weekday afternoons during the fall and spring semesters. Other events, such as Family Literacy Night, are held throughout the year.

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