After a 30 year career teaching in the Maryland Public School system, Sue Lisantti knew she still had work to do. A middle school English teacher, one of her goals had always been to increase literacy and reading comprehension with her students. The constraints of classroom teaching was limiting for kids who needed more help or support to achieve those goals, so upon retirement, she started The Reading Station, a “non-profit organization that offers free tutoring in reading, writing and language skills for children and adults in Garrett County.”
Statistics show that 36 million Americans cannot read or write above a third grade level. This deficit impacts a person’s ability to get and hold a job and enjoy economic stability throughout their life. “In Maryland, at least 12% of the population is considered illiterate,” says Sue. While some are older people that just fell through the cracks, many of our school children also lag behind their classmates with reading skills. Because reading is the foundation for every other subject, Sue knows this work is imperative. “It’s not the teachers fault,” she explains. “Some children just learn differently than others, some need one-on-one time that teachers can’t always provide.”
Sue opened The Reading Station in August 2017 armed only with her knowledge, passion, and $100 given to her by a cousin to buy supplies. She paid the rent on the office space herself and recruited other retired teachers and school professionals to help her tutor and spread the word. The program filled a need within the community and took off immediately. Today The Reading Station is funded totally by grants and donations including an annual donation by the Eiswert family.
Currently, The Reading Station has eleven students and four teachers. “We have a waiting list of kids wanting to begin our program. We need more teachers to help more children” Along with Sue, mentors for 2021 include Sharon Caple, Linda Bradley, and Linda Griffith all retired educators who volunteer their services. Another volunteer, Eric Tribbey, volunteers at Appalachian Crossroads and reads to the residents there. Sue and her team enjoy a 95% rate of success in helping students get back on track with reading and comprehension skills.
Located in offices above the Garrett County Historical Museum in downtown Oakland, volunteers like Sue meet weekly with students for free one-on-one tutoring sessions that last approximately 40 minutes. This class uses multi-sensory methods including the Orton-Gillingham and Phono-Graphix programs that use a phonetic-linguistic approach to teaching reading. The Orton-Gillingham program is used primarily with dyslexic students or those with reading disabilities to not only help with reading skills but also with reading comprehension. Each student receives individual attention and lessons and materials used are designed to meet each individual’s needs and learning skills.
Sue sets up information about The Reading Station at Back to School Nights, and through her website and Facebook page, along with various events throughout the community. In the past four years, Reading Station tutors have worked with students from age 6 to 72, and all grade levels, including high school students. “A lot of older people may be ashamed which makes it difficult for them to ask for help,” says Sue. “ We welcome everyone and privacy is assured.”
One of the things that Sue and her team can do that schools can’t is let students choose books to read that are aligned with their own interests. Sue believes kids will enjoy reading so much more if they are interested in the subject.
Because each student learns in a unique way, there is no set time limit on working with students, although most participants show increased skills in just a few weeks. “The kids love the program and many were sad to see it end so we started a book club that our “graduates” can participate in if they wish,” says Sue. Book club meetings take place on Sunday afternoons where students will talk about their assigned book for the month and present it in an artistic way. They will do a craft, enjoy a snack and celebrate major holidays with parties. It’s a fun way for kids to continue developing their love of reading.
Sue has combined her love of reading and teaching with her other passion – for the arts. In addition to the book club, The Reading Station has also sponsored other community based events including The Garrett Reads and Creates Festival, a joint initiative with Sue’s group, the Garrett County Public Schools and the Garrett County Arts Council. Students from second grade were invited to downtown Oakland to participate in a variety of activities to promote a love of reading. Although Covid put the festival on hold in 2020 and 2021, she is hoping to hold it again in May of 2022.
The group also held a Read! Write! Art! Event in 2019 for 4th graders who travelled to Northern Middle school and listened to a fun book, then wrote about it and then created paintings to take home as well as a free copy of the book to read.
Right now, Sue is working in conjunction with the Garrett County Arts Council to provide another opportunity to continue using arts to enhance literacy. Her students have been introduced to seven different photographers in the area. Each child gets their own camera, will read about photography, take a photo and then write about it. Plans are underway to have these displayed at the Arts Council Gallery Shop along with a reception celebrating the readers / artists..
Be sure to like their page on Facebook for updates, upcoming events and more. Keep an eye out for an upcoming fund-raiser to “Catch Your Pet Reading”. Participants will donate to post as well as to vote on their favorite photos which will be a fun and unique way to honor your pet and donate to this worthy cause.
Interested in other ways to help? Volunteers are always appreciated to tutor, provide clerical assistance and help at community events. Because this is a non-profit organization, donations help provide learning materials and equipment. They also gratefully accept donations of non-perishable snacks and drinks to provide for their students and book club members. One of their most appreciated donations include gift certificates for The Book Mark’et in downtown Oakland so budding readers can purchase their very own book to take home.
For more information on this and more, visit their website at www.readingstation.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Sue at 240-650-6671.
Written by Linda Carr