‘Hidden gem’ Schmoker Reading Center helps children overcome reading difficulties

Devin Shaughnessy, an elementary and special education major, helps Max Petersen build words during a tutoring session at the Schmoker Reading Center

‘Hidden gem’ Schmoker Reading Center helps children overcome reading difficulties

01 Mar 2024     By Kelcey Buck

For more than 15 years, the Kit and Dick Schmoker Reading Center has helped children in the community who are struggling with reading through one-on-one tutoring provided by Husker undergraduate and graduate students under the direction of University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty and certified teachers. 

Currently the Reading Center, located at the Barkley Memorial Center on East Campus, serves children in kindergarten through middle school during three semesters (fall, spring, summer) throughout the year, and also provides tutoring for students through grade 12 during the fall semesters. On average, around 65 Husker students provide tutoring each semester. 

Families who have sought help for their children at the Schmoker Reading Center appreciate the individualized instruction and the research-based approaches used by the tutors. 

Max Petersen smiles for a photo with his tutor at the Schmoker Reading Center “There is something really special about the structure of the program,” said Cris Petersen, whose son, Max began tutoring at the Reading Center last summer. “Having a one-to-one child-to-tutor ratio that seems so much more like a play date twice a week than a tutoring session is an incredible learning and growing environment. We love that each session the tutor and Max have their own little office space that is just for them. It is a personalized learning environment just for him. The tutors do an incredible job of keeping things fresh and new each session.” 

Rachana Jhala’s daughter, Aarya, was a remote learner during kindergarten due to the COVID pandemic. She and her husband later noticed Aarya was struggling with phonics, which was making her a slow reader. 

“Both my husband and I tried our best to help her with reading,” Jhala said. “I started looking for a place where someone could help her with reading on a one-to-one basis. The Kit and Dick Schmoker Reading Center seemed perfect.” 

Angela Heam also noticed her daughter, Allie, struggling with reading after two years of disruption by the pandemic. 

“The last half of her kindergarten year was when COVID hit, so we did the best we could at home, but nothing could compare to being in the classroom with her teacher,” Heam said. “She spent all of first grade doing her best to learn how to read from her teacher who was in a mask. In second grade, she started to pick up some of the missing pieces, but by the time she was in third grade, she was struggling. She hated reading. She knew she was falling behind and her struggles with reading were starting to affect her performance in her other classes.”  

The Heam family learned about the Schmoker Reading Center from teachers at College View Academy. When they signed Allie up for tutoring they hoped she would become more confident in her reading abilities and that her ability would improve, but their experience at the Schmoker Reading Center exceeded their expectations. 

“Allie attended for the rest of that fall semester, the spring semester and the summer session. That’s it. Just two-and-a-half semesters,” Heam said. “She went from reading at a second-grade level to the sixth-grade level in that amount of time. She ‘graduated’ out of the program at the end of the summer because there wasn’t any higher she could go.” 

Jhala has also seen Aarya improve more than just her reading abilities thanks to the Schmoker Reading Center. 

“We were hoping for Aarya to get fluency in reading, which would help her in other subjects too,” Jhala said. “The actual experience is excellent. Aarya is getting better in not only reading but writing too. She loves all her tutors and spending time with them.” 

For the Petersen family, the goal was to prevent Max from regressing in reading during the summer. 

“It was so much more than that. We were able to see him mature as a reader. He grew in his excitement as a reader,” Petersen said. “He loves to read, his attention to detail is growing with each session and he is able to have a discussion about what is going on in the story and answer questions more and more. The Reading Center is such an incredible lifeline for our family to keep Max growing in his reading and speech skills. It is a hidden gem in our great city!” 

For these families, the one-on-one instruction their children have received at the Schmoker Reading Center has been life changing. 

“There isn’t one word, one sentence, one book that Allie now reads that I don’t stop and think about how far she has come,” Heam said. “Her experience [at the Schmoker Reading Center] truly has changed her life and we are forever grateful.”

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