Published on July 2, 2014 by Dr. Mandy Hilsmier 

Samford University's summer reading program Pathway to Graduation will draw more than 30 Birmingham-area students to Samford's campus throughout the summer. The annual program began two years ago after Samford education professor Amanda Strong Hilsmier, Samford alumna Becky Milstead and Susan Wirt, director of special education for the Jefferson County (Ala.) School District, saw the need for an intensive reading instruction program for selected students.

Cosponsored by Samford's Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education, the Jefferson County Board of Education and the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the program provides six weeks of small group reading instruction to middle school students from Birmingham area schools.

"We've learned from previous years how to best serve the students," said Hilsmier. "For this year's program, we've adjusted the comprehension component to really focus on paraphrasing to improve the comprehension of expository text found in the various content areas." 

Students work in small groups with a trained tutor from Samford's education school and a certified reading teacher. The participants receive help in reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, which help enhance their motivation and behavior.

Students were chosen for the program, explains Hilsmier, based on pretesting that showed a reading deficiency as well as a history of other academic concerns.

"A relationship between reading failure and behavior problems has been well documented in research literature," said Hilsmier. "Without effective reading intervention, this reading failure will continue from elementary to middle school, and results in challenging behavior from the students in order to conceal the reading deficits. This is a complicated issue that impacts not only the student, but society."

The summer program is also beneficial to Samford education students providing hands-on experiences that enhance their special education clinical coursework.

"The small group setting has allowed for relationships to form between tutor, student and their fellow group members. We hold each other accountable for each other's learning," said Olivia Yancey, tutor and Samford junior majoring in secondary math. "These relationships impact the learning process in such a positive way. My students continue to impress me every day with their joy and drive."

As the program continues to develop, the collaborators hope to collect long-term data to support the effectiveness of Pathway to Graduation and create a model for school districts on how to impact the reading skills of middle school students who are struggling in reading, noted Hilsmier.

Learn More about the Summer Reading Program

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.