Northwest AEA/school success: Reading Recovery helps fourth grade boy attain tenth grade reading level

Written by Jess Jensen, Reading Recovery Teacher in Schleswig

Reprinted with permission from the 2014 Reading Recovery Site Report for Northwest AEA

In March, I received an email from Jana O’Brien telling me about the great news she had received at her son Nainoa’s spring conferences. Nainoa, now in 4th Grade, had scored at the 10th Grade level in reading on his Iowa Assessments!

Nainoa is one of those children that a teacher never forgets. He came into Reading Recovery as a first round student and discontinued at a Level 16 in early December that year. He ended that year reading a Level 26. I was able to get to know him in the Reading Recovery setting and in my 1st Grade classroom. He was a charmer with the cutest dimples imaginable. I was even lucky enough to receive emails from Nainoa sent from his home computer after school hours. I must say that he and I had a bond.

I was able to catch up with Nainoa at his current school at OA-BCIG. He still has a love for science and enjoys building things with Legos and tools. He chooses to read books about animals and realistic and historical fiction. When he gets bigger he’d like to become a veterinarian and live close to his mom and dad.

I’m so proud of his accomplishments and so thankful that Jana thought to share this exciting news with me!

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Northwest AEA/school success: Boy born with hearing loss chosen for Deaflympics and more

Written by Sandy Leach, educational interpreter at Northwest AEA

Sam Holzrichter is an 18-year-old senior at North High in Sioux City. Sam was born with a hearing loss, and his hearing progressively got worse. He started working with the AEA at 13 months of age. In May 2002, he received a cochlear implant in his right ear; and in October 2009, his left ear was implanted.

In August of 2014, Sam tried out for the 2015 Deaflympics while attending AHIHA (American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association) camp in Buffalo, NY.  Hockey is a huge part of Sam’s life, so this just made sense. In December, he was chosen, and was one of the youngest on TEAM USA to travel to Russia in March to compete in the 2015 Deaflympics. TEAM USA brought home a bronze medal!

Sam is currently an assistant captain of the Sioux City Metros and refs youth hockey games. He was chosen as the North High student to attend Boys State 2015 in Johnston, Iowa. Most recently, he was selected as Sioux City Rotary Club’s Student of the Month.

Sam attended Clark Elementary and North Middle School. He has been very active in extracurricular activities. Sam plays the cello in orchestra, drums in marching band, concert band and jazz band. He also was in wrestling and cross-country during middle school. He is a member of the National Council on Youth Leadership. Sam is also a member of the North High National Honor Society and has taken AP classes and honors classes. He has a 3.9 GPA and ranks twentieth of 334 students in his class.

He works with a sign language interpreter. Sandy Leach, an educational interpreter at the AEA, has been with Sam since fourth grade.

“Sam has challenged me to become a better interpreter, said Sandy. “What an amazing young man! If there is one thing Sam has taught me, it is to believe that anything is possible!”

After graduation, Sam plans on attending RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), in Rochester, NY.  More specifically, he will attend NTID (National Technical Institute for the Deaf), a college of RIT.  He will major in chemical engineering.

Sam has been an incredible role model for all younger students with a hearing loss. He is proof that the deaf and hard of hearing can do anything the “hearing” can do…except hear.

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Northwest AEA/A to Z Preschool success: Girl hears with amplifier

Can you imagine not understanding what people are saying to you; yet, you need to follow instructions in class? This was the reality of a little girl at A to Z Preschool in Kingsley.

With a severe hearing loss in both ears, the child received hearing aids last December. However, she tried her best to understand teachers and classmates but would get frustrated and she wasn’t playing much with others. Her teachers knew something more was needed. One teacher, Ann Bowman, and Nichole Fettig, itinerant teacher of the hard of hearing at Northwest AEA, decided to access an amplifier for the girl. She can now hear those speaking to her.

According to Ms. Bowman, “She is so much more active in our singing, playing with all the kids, working on the computer because we can plug the amplifier into the speaker of the computer, and reading books. She can answer questions and is so much more involved with everything we do. We have seen huge strides in her since we have gotten the amplifier to use with her.”

In addition, the child is picking up on things much easier now, her speech is so much clearer, and she doesn’t get frustrated easily anymore.

“The first time she heard my voice through the amplifier her eyes lit up, and we sat and just talked to one another. This amplifier was the best technology invented,” exclaimed Ms. Bowman.

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Northwest AEA success: Iowa TAG conference to help educators with Core

This year, the annual Iowa Talented and Gifted (ITAG) conference is being coordinated by Northwest AEA’s Sue Chartier, educational consultant. The theme this year is, “The CORE Challenge: Building Options and BreakingBarriers.”  This focus will assist both urban and rural gifted teachers to tie their efforts to the Iowa Core. The conference is set for Oct. 18-20 in Des Moines at the Airport Holiday Inn.

Sue said that typically over 600 educators and parents attend the two-day conference, and she expects a good crowd this year, too.

“We have two nationally known keynote presenters this year, including Dr. Jonathon Plucker from the University of Connecticut, and Dr. Tamra Stambaugh from Vanderbilt University,” explained Sue. “We expect attendees will learn how to best promote success by meeting  the academic and social needs of these students, especially teachers in rural areas.”

According to its website, “ITAG promotes advocacy at the state and local level, pre-service and in-service training in gifted education, and parent/community awareness, education and involvement. ITAG is comprised of parents, educators, other professionals, and community leaders who share an interest in the growth and development of gifted and talented individuals in Iowa.”

Some of the other topics that will be covered at the conference are not limited to, but, will include:

  • curriculum differentiation
  • classroom strategies
  • technology for gifted students
  • twice-exceptional/motivation
  • social-emotional needs

Congrats to Sue and the state team for pulling this event together. To learn more, please go to:

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Northwest AEA/family success: Daycare administrator with cerebral palsy encourages others to embrace differences

After listening to Jayne Harrington talk about her varied activities as a busy office manager for a bustling daycare, it’s hard to believe this same determined, passionate and positive woman needs help with some basic daily needs, like tying her shoes. Such is the life of this accomplished 36-year-old. Hers is a life she says she wouldn’t trade for anything.

Jayne was born in 1979 in Ida Grove, the youngest of three children. At nine months of age, she suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. According to, this condition is a neurological disorder that affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning. Jayne also has a cyst on the left side of her brain that affects the movement of the right side of her body.

Jayne’s parents connected with the Area Education Agency (AEA) after the diagnosis to begin occupational and physical therapy for Jayne. In addition, speech-language pathologists from the AEA helped her with communication skills.

“This was the best help at the time,” said Jayne. “The doctors originally told my parents that I wouldn’t walk or talk and to put me into an institution.”

Jayne’s parents had other plans for her. But the road was not always easy. There was a period of about a dozen years when Jayne had to go to the hospital every day for one hour for therapy.

“I hated it because it was very painful in my joints,” Jayne recalls.

The years of therapy and support from people like Deb Krager at Northwest AEA have helped Jayne and her family realize the dreams they had. With AEA support and the high expectations Jayne’s parents had for her, she began working at KidZone Daycare at the age of 14, graduated from high school and attended Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs where she earned a receptionist certificate.

Jayne chose to return to her hometown after college and continue her work at the daycare, where she has now worked for 22 years and was recently promoted to office manager. She also held a second job for several years at Ida Services, Incorporated, working with people who have special needs.

Jayne has a laser focus of determination to do things people don’t expect her to be able to do.

“I like challenges,” Jayne reflected. “If you tell me I can’t do it, I try harder.”

Jayne’s family was the biggest source of encouragement for her. She says her older brother and sister, along with her parents, treated her just as they would anyone else. They let her struggle when she needed to, but they also assisted her when she needed help. Jayne believes this made her stronger and more determined.

Her message to children with special needs and their parents is this: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help because if you don’t ask, no one else will advocate for you. In addition, don’t be afraid because you are different. Instead, celebrate your uniqueness. And never listen to those around you who are negative.”

And Jayne says to those who don’t live with special needs, “If you see a kid who is different, make them feel part of the group.”

Jayne shares that living with cerebral palsy, and continuing with physical therapy a few times each year for maintenance, is her “normal.” She doesn’t know anything different. Nor would she want to live any other way. She feels she is where she is supposed to be and has set some long-term goals for herself, including public speaking and obtaining a driver’s license.

“It’s ok if you are different. You might like it,” Jayne stated.

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Northwest AEA/Hinton success: Walk to Read

According to Dr. Judy Sweetman, educational consultant at Northwest AEA, Hinton Community School District is finding success with their Phase I initiatives. They implemented a “Walk to Read” program last year after Christmas, worked out some bugs and got it going again  this past fall. They are implementing interventions and progress-monitoring students who were substantially deficient. They group students by area of need during “Walk to Read” with all staff members assisting. In addition, they have an additional 90 minutes of reading time with their own class.

Sweetman is on the district’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) team and provides information about interventions for different reading components. She says that the teachers on her team are “awesome,” and they help each other make the project work.

Walk to Read takes place every morning from 8:30 to 9:10. They call it “Walk to Read” as the students meet with a teacher or para-professional. They gather in small groups within their reading level. Every child in kindergarten through third grade participates. Those needing extra help get it during that time. Those who are at grade-level receive strategies to reinforce their learning. Those who are above grade-level participate in enrichment activities and strategies.

The results are really starting to show in their FAST data. From fall to winter, student scores in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten have significantly increased, and both kindergarten and first grade have over 80 percent of their students at benchmark.

Grade Fall FAST % at benchmark Winter FAST % at benchmark
Age 4 34.21 73.68
Kindergarten 62.76 88.57
First 82.00 82.00

Here’s what some of the Hinton educators have to say about the “Walk to Read” program:

“The smaller group is easier to handle.  I can see a big improvement in their reading.  They can read faster and comprehend more.”
Mr. Thompson, teacher’s assistant, works with 2nd and 3rd grade students with “Read Naturally” and “Walk to Read”

“With smaller groups the students get what they need in a short amount of time.”
Ms Farnik, first grade student teacher, works with the low performing first grade students

“We are doing a better job of meeting the needs of all of the students.  Our group gets phonics, phonemic awareness, sight words and reading fluency each day during Walk to Read.  We rotate groups of 3 or 4 students to three stations/teachers each ‘Walk to Read’ session.”
Mrs. Joanning, first grade teacher, works with the low performing first grade students

“Through Walk to Read, the teachers are collaborating regularly to evaluate student need, our teaching and programs to use.  Each child is getting daily specific lessons and practice based on what they need to progress in literacy.”
Mrs. Law, first grade teacher, works with the low performing first grade students.

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Northwest AEA/early childhood success: AEA staff tackle eating issue for young boy

Here is a letter submitted by Michelle Lindberg, the mother of a child who was helped by the staff of Northwest AEA. The photo was also submitted by Michelle, which shows a happy Cooper and his parents.

I may be biased but ours is a remarkable story, and I believe we would never have gotten where we are today without all the help we had from the AEA. They all care deeply for children and the jobs they do, and that makes them exceptional at it.

Cooper has had eating problems from a very young age. When he was five weeks old, he vomited then aspirated on breast milk. We had to call 911 and he went to the emergency room because he stopped breathing. After that, he vomited a lot when eating.

When it was time to transition to pureed foods at around eight months, he did great at first. He would try just about anything I put in front of him, but within a few months he started refusing to try or eat most foods. He was also starting to gag and vomit on certain types and sizes of bites.  

Every time we took him for a checkup at the doctor, we noticed that he was very low in his growth percentages, especially for weight. We started supplementing his diet with a multi-vitamin and Pediasure every day hoping to at least keep him from losing weight. By this time he was between two and three years old.

It was a constant worry for us that he would start to lose weight and that there was something physically wrong that needed to be addressed. We had an eating/swallowing test done during the summer of his fourth birthday and just before he entered preschool. The results were, at best, inconclusive in our eyes. We had a very hard time getting him to eat or drink anything during the test so the doctor could see him eat so as to assess whether there was something wrong. He told us he thought everything looked good but it was hard to accept that because it didn’t give us any answers as to how to help Cooper.

We felt bad for Cooper because it seemed like there was something about food that made him scared or stressed or traumatized, and I had no idea how to get to the bottom of that and help him. It started to look to me like there was a way of thinking about food for him that made it a scary thing and that is what made him struggle so much.  At this point Cooper’s grandma, Sandra Lindberg, suggested we talk to and put us in contact with several people from AEA who might be able to help.

That summer, he also started going to a playgroup led by Sally Hartley, an early childhood consultant at the AEA. She talked to us a lot about Cooper and made many suggestions on how to help him improve and what she thought would be best for him. She got us in touch with Judy Jansen, an occupational therapist at the AEA, and Sylvia Berg who would end up being his preschool teacher that year. Judy started coming to visit Cooper. She watched him eat and worked closely with Sylvia who was very knowledgeable herself and had worked with many kids with similar issues with much success.

 I am so thankful they were all there at the right time for us because we had gotten to a point where he was throwing up at almost every meal, and refusing to eat, except for four staples: Cheerios with milk, tapioca pudding, A&E vanilla yogurt and applesauce. Every meal and every bite was a huge fight, and we were very frustrated and felt stuck.

It seemed like within just a few months of preschool Judy and Sylvia had Cooper eating school meals and rarely throwing up, and by the end of that year, he hadn’t thrown up in months. He would be more inclined to try and eat at family meal times and it was much less of a struggle. You could tell he was much less stressed about the prospect of food.

Today, we look at the school menu every month, and he gets to decide which days he will take his lunch and which days he will eat school food. There are more days he eats at school than he takes his lunch but it seems like a normal and enjoyable thing for him now. I couldn’t be more grateful to all the people from the AEA who have played a part in Cooper’s progress with food and could never thank them enough.

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