Della Davidson Elementary fifth grader Carlos Pettis reads to his reading coach, UM senior education major Ashley Hinton.

OXFORD, Miss. – Fifth-grader Carlos Pettis wants to throw a goodbye party at the end of the semester for reading coach "Miss Hilton," a University of Mississippi senior education major who tutors at his Oxford school.

"Miss Hilton is a great student teacher," said the smiling 12-year-old, holding his favorite book, "Killer Sharks." "I love to read about sharks."

Ashley Hilton is one of 15 UM senior education students selected from EDRD 414, a reading diagnostics and intervention course, to take part in a 10-week reading intervention program at Della Davidson Elementary and Oxford Elementary, two local schools. Aimed at assisting struggling readers, the project also provides the student teachers with a career heads-up. "I look up to my mentor Mrs. Harris," said Hilton of Enterprise, Ala. "She’s so great with the kids. She’s shown me everything from how to discipline to how to be creative and engage the students to learn and love school."

UM’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction partnered with the two schools as a result of the Mississippi Department of Education’s Response to Intervention Model. Angela Rutherford, CELI director and education professor, said the RIM provides a framework for monitoring a student’s skill acquisition and responds to lack of progress with instructional intervention.

"The reading intervention partnership helps tailor instruction to a student’s specific needs based upon data collected related to reading skill levels," Rutherford said. "In just two short years since the center was established, we’ve impacted many struggling readers and elementary education majors."

Martha McLarty, Della Davidson principal, described the project as a win-win, for both the UM student teachers and her own students.

"The Ole Miss tutors care," McLarty said. "They are a tremendous benefit here at Della Davidson. Reading is everything, and they are helping put my students on a level playing field when they go on to middle school."

The 15 UM teacher candidates each assist one elementary student at the schools two days each week, with each session lasting approximately an hour. The students needing assistance are evaluated through a pre-assessment screening, and the UM teachers work with the school’s reading interventionist to develop individualized lesson plans. Once the semester is complete, the reading skills are to be assessed again to gauge improvement.

Recognizing a child’s difficulties is invaluable, but helping that child improve through one-on-one interaction is even sweeter, said Tamara Murphy, a UM senior student teacher from Oxford.

"Brandon (the student she helps twice weekly) gets to hear fluent reading, he receives extra assistance and in the end he builds his self-confidence in the classroom," Murphy said. "His word recognition and vocabulary have both increased, and his overall grades have improved."

The CELI is funded through the Robert M. Hearin Foundation, which helps support the reading intervention program with assistance from the Oxford School District. To learn more about CELI, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/celi .

By Tobie Baker