Sharing the language of learning

Community program at local schools gives students a head start in reading comprehension
By: Jaime Carrillo
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Students in kindergarten through second grade are getting a useful primer in recognizing words by sight alone.

  For the fourth year running, Sight Word Busters has supplemented reading comprehension lessons in schools throughout the Placer County school districts. The program began when former educator and principal Linda LoBeu found herself going through “kid withdrawal” in her retirement. Sight Word Busters expands reading comprehension by helping students recognize 300 plus of the most common words in the English language.

   “Some of these words present a challenge for kids,” said LoBeu. “The sooner they dominate them, the sooner they become better learners.” The program trains community volunteers who then visit participating classrooms throughout the school year on a weekly basis. Volunteers work one-on-one with students, who traverse through a companion workbook, learning new words and phonics skills. Students are rewarded with accolades such as stickers and certificates as they progress through the program, which is made flexible for different skills and learning styles.

Hard concepts are referred to as “pesky words” or “pesky letters,” to help not assign blame on every unique learner. Participants are also free to work at their own pace, and there’s a dedicated effort to keep every student’s progress in the program confidential to fellow classmates.

   Sight Word Busters began at Rock Creek Elementary in the 2011-2012 school year, implemented in seven classrooms. It’s grown every year since, with 15 schools planning to implement the program in the 2015-2016 school year. Rock Creek Elementary School second grade teacher Lysa Sassman has implemented the program in her classroom since it began.

   “It’s a magnificent program,” said Sassman. “They offer a service that would be impossible for teachers to implement themselves. It gets better every year.” Along with helping students with sight word comprehension, Sassman also touted the program’s secondary benefits.

   “Every week, they’re building a positive relationship with a caring adult who helps them in their reading,” said Sassman. “They’re building confidence as readers.” The program has rendered positive results.

   Collected data from a participating school found 100 percent of program participants were proficient in word fluency at the end of the school year. Of those students, 75 percent were proficient in all 320 words taught in the program.

   According to LoBeu, the program’s success depends on the number of volunteers participating. The program is currently looking for volunteers to attend the walk-in tutorial session available to everyone curious to learn more about Sight Word Busters. The first of these sessions will be held at rock creek elementary School on August 24 at 3:30 p.m. and no prior education or training is required to participate.

   “Volunteers get a sense of satisfaction in helping our sweethearts learn,” said LoBeu. “The tie between the community and the classroom is just wonderful.” According to LoBeu, many volunteers come back year after year because of their love of interacting with students.

“When they see you on the street, they’ll yell out ‘hey it’s the word buster,’” said volunteer and program spokesperson Horti Davis. Davis seeks to do her part in solving a big societal issue.

   “It’s astounding how high the illiteracy rate is in jails,” said Davis. “We’re excited to be on the other end of that continuum, helping to build a love of reading.” For more information on the program, upcoming sessions or volunteer information visit or contact Horti Davis at (530) 823-1857.