Can’t is not a real word, 5-year-old Laila Johnson insists. Her mother told her never to say can’t, and she refuses to back down when her summer reading teacher puts the book Ant Can’t in front of her.

Laila is one of 117 children taking part in UT Tyler’s Summer Reading Program at the Glass Recreation Center and the Salvation Army. The initiative is sponsored by the America Reads program and has grown immensely since last summer when only 20 children participated.

It is just one of many reading initiatives Kouider Mokhtari has led to help Tyler area students improve reading.
Mokhtari said the program is designed to target students who need help getting and staying on grade level in reading. In the first year of the program, the students not only avoided summer slide, but they also grew in their reading skills.

C.J. Madison, 8, has developed a unique way to improve his skills by singing the book.

“It’s easier to read when I do,” he said. “I’ve got about 10 percent better.”

Not only is the program fun for the students, it also helps them build confidence. Mokhtari has seen the students open up as they grow academically.

Anthony Saucedo, 9, already is seeing a difference after three weeks. The program runs through August.
“I feel great, I’m reading better now,” he said. “I was pretty frustrated because I couldn’t read and people made fun of me.”

Mokhtari said the large age range of participants in the program makes it one of the most complex he has designed. Most targeted intervention programs focus on a single grades or age groups, but this one involves students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Graduate school psychology students work with the older students, helping them build confidence and comprehension, while education majors work with the youngest students.

Mokhtari said he wants to expand the program, hoping it continues to build with community support.

Tyler ISD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Christy Hanson said summer reading programs make a big difference. Data from Tyler ISD’s Rose City Summer Camps show Tyler ISD students typically see a 2.7 percent decline in reading skills and 20 percent decline in math over the summer among students who have participated in that particular program.

Rose City Summer Camp data shows the summer intervention can cut the math loss in half, and students actually show gains in reading.

Hanson said the key is parents being aware of opportunities to practice skills in every day life, such as grocery shopping or reading street signs.

The Texas Education Agency recently redesigned its STAAR report cards, which give parents information on where their children need improvement and provides tips on how parents can help their students continue to grow during the summer.

For more information on America Reads, call Mokhtari at 903-566-7133.