A new way of engaging

Dana Robertson, the newly appointed director of the Wyoming Literacy Research Center and Clinic, stands in the room children come to for tutoring help.

THADDEUS MAST/Boomerang staff

Increasing statewide engagement is one of the University of Wyoming’s three key goals, and one program is taking that mission to heart.

The Wyoming Literacy Research Center and Clinic, part of the College of Education, is taking several of its projects to communities around the state, possibly helping young students with difficulties learning basic English and reading skills.

Dana Robertson, the newly appointed center director, said a focus on helping people in the state is just as important as the clinic’s research.

“The first priority is statewide engagement,” he said. “It’s a research center, but in order to fulfill the land grant mission that is so strong in Wyoming, a big part of the work is focused on the statewide engagement and the outreach, which makes this a unique center from many of the other research centers in the country.”

Robertson has experience working with literacy centers, said Ray Reutzel, dean of the College of Education.

“He is a literacy expert with a doctorate from Boston University,” he said. “Among our entire literacy faculty, when the center came on board, he moved over there and took control of the clinical side of LRCC. He’s kind of acted as the ad hoc director of the clinic.”

Part of the reason Robertson came to UW four years ago was because of the creation of a literacy center.

“This was one of the universities that was opening a center and a clinic when a lot of universities are cutting their research budgets and their clinic budgets,” he said. “We’ve been very lucky in Wyoming to have the amount of resources we have available to us — it’s unparalleled.”

Since the center’s official opening in March 2014, Robertson laid out a roadmap for the future, Reutzel said.

“He’s sort of the brains of the operation,” Reutzel said. “He’s already painted a beautiful four-point vision that he shared with the board.”

Tutoring students from around the state is part of that vision, Robertson said.

Someone in the family or the school recommends them to us if they have a literacy project, they sign up, and they could be matched up with one of the tutors.

“They’re engaging in this one-on-one tutoring that is partially interest-based, we’re not restricted to the curriculum mandates a school district has,” he said.

For example, a tutor could utilize a student’s interest in art to coax a child into learning something they might not normally enjoy.

While current tutoring services are only in Laramie, there are plans to open centers throughout the state in the future. They would not be physical sites — a liaison would work with tutors in the area to help students.

“The next strand is some professional development that will be carrying out in partnership with the Department of Education focused on K-3 schools,” Robertson said. “So, profiling literacy and professional development to districts and individual schools at the K-3 level. We’re still in the very early phases of that.”

Collaborating with teachers in disciplines other than English and literacy is another of the center’s goals, Robertson said.

“Working with math teacher, science teachers, art teachers — anyone who works in a school setting about what are the literacy skills and strategies needed within that particular discipline,” he said. “Your math teacher isn’t necessarily teaching literacy, but there’s particular ways that mathematicians have to read their textbooks and understand their materials.”

The final goal is working to integrate literacy programs when children are young and outside of the classroom, Robertson said. One such study is a combined effort with Stanford University utilizing text messaging.

“We basically sending literacy-related text messages to families that enroll in the program that talk about, say, the next time you’re having bath time with your child, point out the letters on the shampoo bottle,” he said. “Just ways they can engage in literacy-related activities in their everyday lives.”

Some of the long-term goals of the center is to spread out individual studies and projects in a few communities in the state to other districts.

“The plan is that, over the years, it can be replicated out to as many districts that want to participate with this work,” he said.

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