iHeart Engages Children in Literacy-Focused Instruction

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Literacy, the ability to read and write, is tied to everything we do. From communicating on the job to reading the latest Facebook post, developing these skills is vital to excelling in all subjects in school, socializing with others, and becoming independent thinkers, especially for young children.

To help students struggling with literacy, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) has partnered with John F. Kennedy Elementary School in West Oso ISD for an initiative called Islanders Helping the Early Acceleration of Readers Together (iHeart). The grant funded program serves a dual benefit: elementary school students receive additional small group instruction, while the next generation of educators gain first-hand experience using specialized literacy materials, like Red Rocket Readers, to make an Islander Impact in the community.

“Even though our teachers work hard in the classroom to promote literacy, small group instruction is key, so that’s why the benefit of iHeart is huge,” said Marcy Davis, principal of JFK Elementary School and Islander alumna. “We greatly appreciate the Islander student volunteers who take precious time out of their day to give our kids extra focused instruction. Having these free tutors is something our school wouldn’t normally be able to afford.”

iHeart is in its first year and serves about two dozen second-graders who were identified by struggling test scores. Under the guidance of Dr. Bethanie Pletcher, assistant professor of literacy education at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Islander students design 30-minute fun and engaging tutoring sessions with activities including guided reading, comprehension practice, and sight word exercises. iHeart volunteers and school administrators have diligently worked to erase any stigma that might come with being chosen for extra tutoring – in fact, iHeart students have become the envy of their peers.

“The Response to Intervention model is used to assess and monitor students who might otherwise fall through the cracks,” said Pletcher. “We can catch them right away, rather than wait until third grade to determine there’s a problem, whether it’s in reading or math. The earlier we intervene, the faster we can accelerate them to where their peers are.” 

One Islander iHeart volunteer is Audrey Barnes, an education major specializing in reading and speech pathology. Barnes, a proud breast cancer survivor, came to the Island University to pursue a bachelor’s degree after 30 plus years of working in pre-school education.

“I thought to myself, ‘If I can beat cancer, then I can go back to school.’ Right now, I’m fulfilling my bucket list,” said Barnes. “I have three little girls in my iHeart group and I want them to know they can succeed. No matter where you come from, you can learn to read and write.”

Madison Woods, an early childhood education major with an emphasis in reading, is another iHeart volunteer.

“As their tutor, I feel great, because when I walk in every day, I’m with kids that are excited and passionate about what they’re doing,” shared Woods.

iHeart is supported by a $2,500 2018 Literacy Grant from the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Pletcher was one of only 13 recipients nationwide to receive the grant, which pays for reading materials for the small group tutoring sessions.