CISP: mentors and youth reading for a brighter future


Scott Turner, KP News

Community In School mentor Betty Nordfors spends some time in the Minter Elementary library reading and playing bingo comprehension games with Ava Bauml, 8. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Communities In Schools Program is a national non-profit organization that helps kids succeed in their school work.

Locally, CISP has been at work in the Peninsula School District since 2000.

CISP works with most of the schools in the district –– including all the schools on the Peninsula –– by linking students who need help in reading or math with volunteer tutors from the community.

The CISP program at Minter Elementary is led by kindergarten teacher Katie Nettlebeck.

Nettlebeck has been teaching for three years, and was a CISP mentor at Evergreen for a year.

“We use volunteers from the community who come to the schools to work with students in reading or math. It’s a free program. The kids love it and really look forward to it,” she said.

For the students, it’s like being part of a club, “and they really feel successful,” she added.

The focus at Minter is on reading.

Nineteen Minter students meet with their tutors every Wednesday afternoon for an hour. The program runs from October through May.

Other schools might concentrate on math, and some schools offer CISP programs in both reading and math, Nettlebeck said.

“We’re showing our kids that reading is fun and it’s not something they have to struggle with,” Nettlebeck said. “We see light bulbs coming on in these kids.”

She told about a student who was “really struggling with reading so he got into the CISP program and now he really looks forward to Wednesdays.

“His mom came up to me and said he loves reading now and he just can’t wait until Wednesday. He’s so excited about it,” said Nettlebeck.

Each mentor has their own special teaching techniques and tricks to make the reading sessions fun.

Vic Renz has been a CISP mentor for “about seven or eight years,” he said. “The kids learn to visualize the words and to sound them out. We just come up with a unique way of helping them. You can see their eyes get brighter when they figure something out. It really makes you feel good,” Renz said.

Renz’s student is 8-year-old Audrey Bauml.

“I’m doing it so I can get better at reading,” Bauml said. “My mentor is Vic Renz. He’s fun and he really helps me a lot. He’s like a teacher and a buddy at the same time. We’re doing bingo. He’s really a good tutor,” she said.

Betty Nordfors is in her first year as a CISP mentor. She learned about the program from a golfing friend who has been a mentor for about 10 years.

Nordfors lives in Gig Harbor, “…but I chose to come to Minter because I like the country feel. I went to school in Chimacum on the Olympic Peninsula and this kind of feels like where I’m from. I’m a former banker but I love to read and I love kids,” she said.

At first, Nordfors wasn’t sure what to expect from the program, but she has become very attached to her student. “My student is a great little girl and I’ve grown very fond of her,” she said.

Sometimes Nordfors and her student “shadow read” and then the student does it by herself.

“CISP has guidelines that we follow and it really seems to be working,” she said. I absolutely recommend this program to other people who might want to be mentors.”

The students obviously enjoy the sessions and recognize how important they are.

Eight-year-old Ava Bauml, Audrey’s twin sister, likes the CISP program “because you can learn to be a good reader and that feels good. We need to know how to read so we can teach our children. It’s really, really fun having my own reading mentor. She’s really nice and she has her own way of teaching me.

“We read at home too. That’s good practice. And it helps me with my other studies, too,” Bauml said.

For her part, Nettlebeck said she wants people to know that reading is for everyone.

“It’s how we get knowledge and these kids can really be proud of what they accomplish,” she said.

She’s always looking for more volunteer tutors, as well.

“It’s important to make a difference in your community,” she said. “If you want to help kids, CIS is a great program for that.”

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