Amid isolation, reading clinic allows York County teachers, students to reconnect

As students made their way home in March when schools first shut down to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, they did not know it would be the last time they saw their teachers for the school year.

But for those teachers studying at McDaniel College’s reading specialist graduate program, the summer provided an opportunity to reconnect through the program’s elementary-age reading clinic.

“I was able to work with students one-on-one,” said Brittany Grove, a kindergarten teacher at West Manheim Elementary School in South Western School District.

Nicole Selmer, a kindergarten teacher at Taneytown Elementary School, in Carroll County, Maryland, works with Samuel Herrick, 6, during McDaniel's reading clinic in July, 2020. Selmer worked with students in Adams County, along with Kelsey Hoffman and Brittany Grove, York County teachers who participated in the clinic.

Grove said she knew two of the three students she worked with, one of whom she taught throughout the spring in one-on-one Zoom sessions two or three times a week.

“So when clinic started, we picked up where we ended the school year,” Grove said in an email. “She made a lot of growth in clinic as a reader!"

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Grove and Kelsey Hoffman, a fifth grade Southern Elementary School teacher in Southern York County School District, were both participants of the four-week clinics, which wrapped up in mid-July.

The clinics are normally held in person, but they were largely virtual this year, so Mel Rhoads, adjunct professor for the clinic, was unsure if they would garner the same results.

“At first, it was scary,” she said. “We were nervous that the clinicians would not be able to get that much out of clinic face-to-face.”

Instead, however, the reading clinic allowed teachers to grow in their knowledge of technology and hone skills needed for a return to remote learning — which many schools are headed toward in some form this fall.

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Kelsey Hoffman, a fifth grade teacher at Southern Elementary School, in Southern York County School District, works with students online on reading exercises in the McDaniel College summer reading clinic, in July 2020.

“When we were teaching in the spring, I was not doing video chat," said Nicole Selmer, a kindergarten teacher at Taneytown Elementary School, in Carroll County, Maryland, who worked with Adams County students during the clinic.

But through the clinic, she had to learn to record herself teaching, share her screen, find online books and resources, and help students navigate these tools — which for children so young can be challenging.

For Grove, it reinforced her training on Zoom, which also eased the transition for her students.

Each clinic teacher chose three students to work with — many opting to reach out to those they already knew, which aided in relationship building.

Selmer, who also did some work with students in person, said one of her students was Isabella Drechsler, 10, a rising fifth grader whom she had taught in preschool. It was eye-opening to see her using complex text, because back then, “she didn’t even know how to write her own name,” Selmer said.

These summer connections were also a great opportunity for parents to see first-hand how students were learning with teachers, said Brittany Tyler, coordinator for the clinic.

“Families were so involved,” she said. "They saw every single day what these teachers are doing."

The goal of the clinic, Tyler said, was to get students not just to pass a test but to read on their own and believe in themselves.

“That engagement process — you could see the students grab hold and want to learn more,” Rhoads said, adding that her hope was for them to walk away with a love for learning.