On the Other Hand

Another View: Busting down literacy hurdles

By: John Bowman / Guest Columnist
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The term “Word Sight Busters” was not part of my personal lexicon be-fore this school year started. But when I walked into Miss Watkins’ first-grade class at Skyridge Elementary School earlier this month, I saw a boy nudge the girl next to him and say, “Word Buster is here.”
The Sight Word Buster Program was started by former teacher and elementary school principal Linda LoBue in Auburn in February 2011. LoBue recalls, “Principal Suzanne Flint and her awesome primary teachers opened the doors to our first group of 10 volunteers at Rock Creek Elementary School.”
Five years later, I am proud and happy to be one of 150 trained volunteers who tutor some 750 students one-on-one. We are all mentioned in the
program’s mission statement: “Local volunteers helping local students become successful readers.” LoBue’s purpose is to support schools, teachers and students so that every student can meet his or her potential.
Using printed booklets designed by LoBue, volunteers spend one hour a week in a classroom, helping students learn a set of words that show up regularly in reading material. We spend two minutes or so with each student, and it is amazing to me how rapidly they progress. (There are also some number exercises, but mostly it is words — what they look like and how they sound.)
LoBue comes well prepared for this endeavor. She taught at every grade level in elementary school, including learning-disabilities classes, over 15 years. She then spent 15 years as an elementary school principal and also taught Educational Best Practices as an adjunct instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
One of the beauties of this elegantly organized program is that the schools do not have to pay for it. In the first year of the program, Linda and her husband, Jim, paid for everything. In year two, individual volunteer Busters, Soroptimist Historic Auburn, Soroptimist International of Auburn, the American Association of University Women of Auburn, and JoAnn Neft sponsored classrooms. Last year, the Placer Community Foundation helped support it and this year, the Foundation and the Auburn Elks Lodge 1691 bought all of the booklets and materials. Some schools have used Title 1 funds to buy books.
LoBue is pleased with the progress being made in the program. During her educational career, she said: “I observed too many times just how devastating it is for students that become frustrated readers. When young students fall behind, they can quickly develop a negative attitude toward school in general and they too often come to believe that they cannot make it academically.”
She added, “I know that helping students master the high frequency words — those common words that appear most frequently in texts and many of which are difficult to decode, greatly helps our students to improve fluency, which increases their overall comprehension. I also know how hard teachers work and it is next to impossible for them to work one-on-one with each and every student.
LoBue is a very high-energy person. When I asked her what keeps her going, she said, “After retiring from my previous position and moving to Auburn, I wanted to spend this second phase of my life using the knowledge I gained during my career and to prevent the tragedy of unsuccessful readers. Barbara Read, a professor at California State University and the Small Business Development Center, was a big influence on me when I first came to Auburn. She encouraged me to develop this program.”
Five schools are now participating in Auburn, two in Lincoln, and three in Rocklin. The program has also been introduced to KidsFirst and two other after-school programs at community centers in Rocklin.
Personally, I am very grateful that LoBue has dedicated herself to this cause. I have taught in adult literacy programs in the past. I have also taken poetry into middle school and high school classes, have tutored high school students preparing for the SATs, and taught media studies at the college level. But I had never taught 6- and 7-year-olds before, and I must admit I entered the Skyridge classroom with some trepidation. It did not last long. Interacting with these bright, curious, and often earnest children is enlivening for this old grandpa.
And the program still needs volunteers. If you would like to help children in their reading process, there is a training session at 3 p.m. Monday at Rock Creek School, 3050 Bell Road, Auburn. Believe me, you will not regret it.
John Bowman is a retired newspaperman and former editor of the Roseville Press Tribune. He lives in Auburn,
where he is a published poet and
writing coach. You can reach him at