LEIPSIC - Nine percent of adults in Putnam County lack basic literacy skills. According to this estimate reported in 2003 by the National Center for Education Statistics those adults lack the reading skills necessary to search for a job and complete a job application. The Putnam County Educational Service Center is clearly doing more to help through a program effectively called Project MORE.

Amy Freeman is the Putnam County Educational Service Center Project MORE Director. She was hired to coordinate the county mentoring programs 15 years ago. At that time, the only intervention tool the ESC could find was HOSTS (Helping One Student To Succeed.)

""We started 15 years ago as Northwest Ohio Special Education Regional Program. We were grant-funded and the original schools used HOSTS. That was the only program we could find that had a one-on-one mentoring component to it.

"There were 12 that we started with in Northwest Ohio. Leipsic was the first. During Governor [Robert] Taft's day, he was rolling out Ohio Reads. The Ohio Reads grants were available for four years.

They made the HOSTS licensing fee affordable. After that time, we knew we had to come up with an affordable version of HOSTS."

To get there, Freeman refers to a conversation between two men named Larry Hall and Dr. Jan Osborn. Forty years ago, Osborn was working his way through graduate school at the Libby ketchup canning factory in Leipsic where Hall was a tomato geneticist. The two became friends.

Eleven years ago, Hall called Osborn and asked if he would meet him for an introduction to Hall's eldest son, Bob. Bob Hall, a was just about to launch an online guided reading series and wondered if Osborn would be interested in using it.
"We had used all our money for licensing. We couldn't afford the program, which is called 'Reading A to Z'. It's now in 250 countries in the world as a web-based program. We had the idea to take a book from 'reading A to Z' and created a very affordable scripted mentoring component to support all of the skill that need to be taught, say phonics and high frequency words. We provided the seed money and this year they are going to use it in all of our [Putnam County] schools. We're funded for ten of 15 years through the Ohio General Assembly."

As Leipsic Elementary School was the first HOSTS school, it will be the first to roll out the new structure. Pam Wilhelm was the former HOSTS coordinator at that school, logging 46,000 one-on-one hours before her retirement. The former teacher is still mentoring there. Judy Dukes is the current coordinator. She is trained in Project MORE and will administer Leipsic's program for students who are on not on track in reading.

Dukes sent a letter out local churches as well as to past mentors to promote Project MORE training. Thus far, she will work with over 100 volunteers, some from Leipsic High School and Bluffton University's phonics program. However, most mentors are adults from the surrounding community.

This year, more of those mentors will be senior citizens. Jodi Warnecke, Executive Director at Putnam County Council on Aging, explains why.

"The Ohio Department of Aging wanted to partner with Project MORE to try to connect senior volunteers with the program to try to become mentors. There are 23 regions across Ohio that have Retired Senior Volunteer programs. When those were set up forty years ago, there was nothing in our region.

"The Ohio Department of Aging contracted with us, gave us a small grant to promote volunteerism. Over the last couple months, that's what we've been doing. We have 15 volunteers for Leipsic, Kalida, Continental, Fort Jennings, Miller City-New Cleveland, Glandorf and Pandora-the seven Putnam County schools that do Project MORE. If there is a senior citizen who would like to volunteer, we can transport them to the mentoring sessions."

Donna Galloway is one such mentor, although she has already mentored students at Leipsic for 14 years.

"I love working with the kids," says Galloway. "I was a teacher. I taught eighth grade science in Napoleon. My husband was dentist and I help him set up his practice and never got out of the office. But I still worked with kids as much as possible. I talk to people I know and encourage them to help."

Volunteers are asked to mentor a minimum of one hour per week. Coordinators welcome any and all volunteers, whether it be for the hour or more.

"That one-on-one is priceless. The kids look forward to reading with their mentors," says Darren Henry, Leipsic Elementary School principal. "It helps boost their confidence. We're seeing good results."

Bowling Green State University's Center for Evaluation Services has been evaluating Project MORE for six years. Results show that students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) made a one-month reading gain for each month of structured intervention.

Freeman sums up the success of Project MORE one-on-one mentoring. "What BGSU has found is that it doesn't matter if students are mentored by the same person each week. Because the materials are so structured and scripted, there's no difference as long as the training is in place."
story created on Monday 9/2/2013 at 5:50:21 pm by Anne Coburn-Griffis
story modified on Tuesday 9/3/2013 at 5:08:27 pm by Kirk Dougal