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Rotary Club of RR program helps teachers instill love of reading


Sandia Vista Elementary teacher Michelle Garmon participates in the Rotary Club of Rio Rancho’s Dick Hillier Tutoring Program.
Courtesy photo

Sandia Vista Elementary first-grade teacher Michelle Garmon says she never knew she was a “struggling reader” many years ago when growing up in San Diego.

Luckily, she happened to have a caring teacher, Mrs. Gallagher, “who took the time. … She made reading a game.”

Flash ahead more than a decade and, Garmon says, “She’s actually the reason I’m a teacher. She met me where I was and put the love of reading into me.”

Unfortunately, there’s not enough time for every teacher to put the love of reading into all their students, but thanks to the Rotary Club of Rio Rancho’s Dick Hillier Tutoring Program, more teachers are finding the time to spend an extra two hours a week for 15 weeks with struggling readers.

“I believe every parent wants to help their students but they don’t know how,” Garmon said.

The Rotary Club here has been involved with tutoring since 2010, now targeting students who are under-performing in reading. The late Hillier, a Rotarian for three decades, was the principal driver of the program and growing it to four Rio Rancho elementaries.

At Sandia Elementary, where Garmon has been teaching since the doors opened in 2007, there are seven first-grade teachers spending one hour after school twice a week to work with a handful — Garmon has five — of struggling readers, who need help with specific skills. She’s been with the program for five years.

Thanks to the Hillier Program, these teachers are rewarded by being paid $1,000 each. Garmon puts the money back into her classroom — and another teacher is saving her stipend for her wedding.

“We focus specifically on foundational skills and reading,” Garmon said, explaining that foundational skills are “letters, letter sounds, sight words — all the components that go together to help a successful reader.”

An assessment, she said, has shown her that students’ foundation skills typically increase by 10 to 15 points, and she’s even seen some climb 25 points.

“There’s no cost for parents, and the success rate is amazing … priceless,” Garmon added. “It gives them confidence, and once they get confidence, they become fearless — you can see it on their faces.

“We catch them up (and they) can keep up with their grade level; the changes are profound,” she said. “I had a student who was struggling in kindergarten; I tutored her and she ended up being an amazing writer. She wrote me a letter at the end of fifth grade, thanking me for being her favorite teacher — that brought tears to my eyes.”

The Rotary Club’s “Roots to Wings” fundraiser, slated for Friday evening from 6:30 to 11 at Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel, makes these reading improvements possible. Dinner tickets cost $60, or potential sponsors may purchase a 10-seat table for $550 and save $50.

There also will be a silent auction and dancing to a live band.

To purchase tickets, become a sponsor, donate auction items or garner more information, contact Earl Waid at 250-9070 or