Project helping struggling readers

Leigh Roman, founder of Reading and Writing Solutions, Jeff Paulse, Bonteheuwel High principal, Nicola Pather, Conway Vive and Yushrah Petersen. The Grade 11 pupils who did the training will become peer educators.

An Athlone organisation’s literacy-tutoring course is propelling people into teaching positions and showing school pupils how to help struggling peers.

For six years, the non-profit Reading and Writing Solutions (RWS) has run training for those wanting to support children who struggle with reading and writing.

There were 80 participants in the latest workshop, held in October. It was the biggest group so far, and 25 of the graduates are already working as teachers’ assistants.

The founder of RWS, retired principal, Jeff Paulse, said the training aligned with the state schools’ curriculum, and trainees had to do a 60-minute lesson plan with a struggling reader.

“There is such a lot of potential with the latest group,” he said. “Apart from the 25 employed as teachers’ assistants, there are others who are working at churches and in their community – helping children in their homes or living in the same street as them.”

One of the graduates, Laureal Kinnear, 34, said she had been very quiet and shy before the training.

“Now I have become outspoken. This helped me a lot, and it connected me with people who can assist me on my journey to empower myself even more. I am now also able to assist my two children. Since doing the course, I am now more positive.”

Naazia Hendricks, 22, said her heart was in teaching and the course had improved her chances of being employed as a teaching assistant.

“Mr Paulse is so passionate about what he is doing, and I am so grateful to him. He not only teaches us, he motivates us as well.”

Gavin Husselman, 29, said he had landed a job as a teachers’ assistant at Boundary Primary.

“This just shows how important the training was I received. I am even able to help my own son now.”

Aakifah Fisher, 20, also dreams of becoming a teacher.

“I failed my matric. However, last year I got an opportunity to do an 18-month early childhood development course, and I had to volunteer at a school. Now I have my matric certificate, and when this opportunity came, I grabbed it. It opened my eyes as to what I can do better. What I have learnt is also how I can help my community. Often, children who are struggling with reading and writing have low self-esteem, and I can help to make a change in their lives.”

Bonteheuwel High principal Nicola Pather offered the use of the school hall for the training, and three of her Grade 11s took part in the workshop.

“We have found that some Grade 8 pupils struggle with reading. The group who did the training will pass on their knowledge to next year’s Grade 10s – it’s like training the trainer. This is so we don’t leave a void when the Grade 12s of next year move on. I think something like this is long overdue because, in the past, all we did was patching the cracks and then they resurface.

“I can see how the children have changed within a short period of time, by implementing the tools they were taught. What I love about this project is that it empowers the whole community.”

Leigh Roman, one of the Grade 11s who did the training, is already helping her siblings. Another of the pupils, Yushrah Petersen, said the workshop had made her more confident to help others.

Six years ago, RWS started at Athlone North Primary School with seven volunteer tutors. Since then, it has trained 1 455 people.