Quests Aren’t Just for Fairy Tales: How ‘Reading is Magic’ is Improving Santa Fe Literacy

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By Perli Cunanan, Amy Miller, Rayna Dineen | The Reading Group

Victor, a second grade student, could not read at all and felt badly about himself. He had become convinced that he was just stupid. Embarrassed, he didn’t want his classmates to know that he couldn’t read. He was beginning to give up on school.

Victor’s teacher realized he needed additional support outside of her classroom. She made a referral to Reading is Magic, a free summer and after-school reading program that is a collaboration between Reading Quest and Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences (SFSAS).

Heading into its seventh year, Reading is Magic has had remarkable outcomes. After the two-week summer interventions, students show on average a full grade level of growth in their reading.

Literacy Low in Santa Fe

Reading proficiency in the Santa Fe Public Schools is low, with only 28% of students able to read effectively at their grade level, and 72% of students struggling to comprehend the academic material presented to them in class.

Photo by Lindsey Kennedy, Meow Wolf

Reading Quest provides year-round, free and sliding scale reading tutoring, training and coaching for teachers, parents and teens, and professional development for public school teachers. They support struggling readers using intensive phonics instruction that is fun and engaging. The safe, supportive environment instills a growth mindset in students.

After attending the two-week Reading is Magic summer camp and continued tutoring with Reading Quest, Victor reached his grade level in reading and has developed new confidence as student.

“After assessing Victor, it became apparent that he had never learned the letters of the alphabet or the sounds they make,” Dineen said. “He did not know about short vowel sounds or any of the basic rules of reading. Now, in fifth grade, he is proud that he can read the chapter books his teacher gives him.”

Hurdles of Language Learning

Victor’s struggles, like that of other students Dineen encounters, had nothing to do with a learning disability or the fact that he primarily spoke Spanish at home, she explained. It was simply that Victor had not been taught to read in the early grades in a way that worked for him.

Learning to read is one of the most complex tasks human beings ever accomplish. English is one of the hardest languages to learn because it is routinely inconsistent with many exceptions to its basic rules. To learn to read English fluently, children need to master letter recognition and learn a core set of tools for knowing when letter sounds and combinations change and how they affect one another.

Photo by Lindsey Kennedy, Meow Wolf

For students such as Victor, learning to read became an adventure, a journey that’s fun and exciting. “The confidence and joy our kids experience as they master the art of reading feels like real, everyday magic to them,” Dineen said. “For a child who couldn’t read, to come out of that adventure with a sense of mastery—for them, reading is magic!”

Reading Quest tutors 270 students every week and is currently enrolling 80 students for the upcoming summer Reading is Magic programs at Sweeney Elementary School and Santa Fe School for the Arts and Sciences.

For more information about Reading Quest, visit www.readingquestcenter.org or contact Rayna Dineen, executive director, at readingquestcenter@gmail.com or (505)920-9709.

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Perli Cunanan is the executive director of Santa Fe School for the Arts and Sciences and co-chairs The Reading Group with Amy Miller, the executive director of The May Center for Learning.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Tumbleweeds, Santa Fe’s family newspaper.