One Child at a Time

Aug. 21, 2003
One Child at a Time
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Sister Laurita Kelly, OSF, provides extra help to students in need

Nationally, students in non-public schools consistently score higher than average on standardized tests. But what about those students who need some extra help getting there? At Our Lady of Pompey School in Syracuse, a group of very committed and dedicated staff, parents, parishioners and community members work together to ensure that the students get what they need to excel. This includes being blessed with teachers who make a lasting difference in the lives of the children they teach. Sister Laurita Kelly, OSF, is one such teacher. Sister Laurita is the remedial teacher who assists students from the remedial level to the enrichment level. It is the practice of Our Lady of Pompey to provide immediate intervention to any student in need of academic support. Of the 170 students in attendance last year, Sister Laurita supported 86 of them at one time or another throughout the year. Sister Laurita provides much more than educational support –– she meets both the basic and the emotional needs of the students she teaches. “When Sister sees a student who doesn’t seem to be able to concentrate, she may find that they haven’t eaten that day. She will use her own funds to provide them with a healthy snack and drink that will help them focus and get down to the business of learning,” said Barbara Jacques, principal of Our Lady of Pompey. “She’s very in tune with their needs, even if they don’t voice those needs.”

Sister Laurita began the remedial program at Our Lady of Pompey under the administration of Sister Adrian Wise, OSF. After 36 years of classroom teaching, Sister Laurita recognized the critical need for remedial instruction. Sister Laurita finds remedial instruction much more satisfying than classroom instruction. “It’s more gratifying. I can see the kids who really needed help become successful in the classroom. It’s so rewarding to watch the children gain the self-confidence they need to succeed.” With this self confidence comes increased participation in the classroom.

Robert Vavonese was a student at Our Lady of Pompey School under Sister Laurita’s tutelage. Vavonese is now a senior at Canisius College in Buffalo. “She definitely helped me get to where I am today,” he said. “I would get lost and she would break it down for me. She simplified the material and made it fun to learn,” said Vavonese. When the students have a better understanding of the work presented to them, they pay closer attention in class and, as a result, earn better grades. When Vavonese left Our Lady of Pompey School, he went on to CBA. Sister Laurita had given him the confidence he needed in the classroom and when he moved on, Vavonese found he wasn’t afraid to ask for help. “She worked wonders for me,” said Vavonese. “I wasn’t a good student, but after working with Sister Laurita, I didn’t feel as bad about myself.”

Sister Laurita integrates the Marie Carbo method of instruction into her curriculum. The goal of the Carbo technique is to increase literacy by identifying and accommodating students’ learning styles and altering the methods of teaching to fit that learning style. When she was unable to purchase the materials she needed to implement the Reading Styles Program, Sister Laurita made her own. “I run all of my worksheets on dark paper,” she said. “It’s been discovered that students who have dyslexia or vision problems can focus better by reading off of a dark sheet of paper rather than a white sheet. The dark sheet of paper reduces the glare of the light. If their eyes are getting too much light the letters on the page go out of focus.” Sister Laurita also created bookmark-type cards that have a window of colored cellophane inserted in the middle of them. The students use the card as a guide to read one line of text at a time. As a result, the student focuses better on the words and the glare of light on the page is eliminated. Another tool Sister Laurita uses to teach children to read is the Carbo Recorded Book Method. She obtained a series of reading materials on tape that coincide with the books the students are reading in class. When the children listen to the books on tape, they become acquainted with the text before it is covered in the classroom. “They are then already familiar with new vocabulary words and their phonetic skills improve,” said Sister Laurita. “The tapes even ask questions at the end that help with comprehension.”

The results have been astounding. Sister Laurita shared the story of a third grader who transferred from another school. “When she came to us she couldn’t read or write,” said Sister Laurita. “However, when I read to her, she had a 100 percent comprehension rate.” Sister Laurita worked with her and they listened to books on tape. When it came time to take a test, Sister Laurita read the test to the student. By the end of the school year, the child had conquered the first and second grade levels of reading. There are plenty of other success stories. Sister Laurita cited the example of four female students who entered Our Lady of Pompey last year. “They came into sixth grade with a third grade math level,” said Sister Laurita. When she realized that the students were having a hard time concentrating, she discovered that it was due to lack of food. “Once I fed them, I took them miles,” she said. In a seven-month period, Sister Laurita was able to take them from a third grade math level to a sixth grade math level. Sister Laurita admits that there are additional problems beyond academic ones. Most of her students long for the attention they don’t get at home. “Show them love and kindness and you can have them eating out of your hand,” she said.

What is Sister Lauriat’s wish for the future? “My goal is to see the diocese come to the point where we serve all of the kids with academic needs, not just the ones that are labeled under the 504 plan,” she said. In addition, Sister Laurita hopes that the classroom teachers will learn to identify students’ learning styles and adjust instruction accordingly. “If a child has a writing problem, don’t give them a test that requires an essay type answer,” said Sister Laurita. “They may do better with a multiple choice style of testing. My wish is for teachers to take the time to modify their tests to better fit the child’s learning style.”

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