There Sam Slotnick sat, alone in the VanDenBurgh Center on the campus of SUNY-New Paltz, contemplating his next move in the world of childhood education. He had retired from 35 years of teaching, 32 of them at the New Paltz Middle School (5th and 6th grades).
Retiring in 2003, he had no idea what to do next. “I had lost my audience,” he laughed. “It was 2009, and I was lost. I had been an adjunct at SUNY, teaching method courses since 2006. And it wasn’t enough.”
A call from student-teacher coordinator Maggie Veve shook Slotnick out of his ennui. “She was looking for someone to supervise student teachers in literacy training and asked if I was interested. I told her I had to think about it. I didn’t know what to do.”
As he sat pondering, he got another phone call. “It was the mother of a girl who earlier was considered marginally educable in Middle School and who had just graduated from a university magna cum laude. The girl had been in the literacy program, had worked with a specialized literacy teacher who taught her how to read. She was calling to let us know that her daughter had gained confidence in her education and became a scholar because she participated in the program.
“I was hooked,” said Slotnick.
The Literacy Center provides teacher candidates clinical opportunities in the diagnosis and remediation of reading and writing difficulties. It provides literacy instruction to kids in the mid-Hudson Valley through the direct tutoring of children and adolescents , as well as consultation with teachers on literacy issues.
Secondly, it provides a link between school districts and community organizations interested in reading and writing excellence, promoting best practices based on current research in literacy education. This summer program consists of 14 days of two-hour classes.
“It is a jewel in the crown [of public education],” said Slotnick grandly. “The student teachers are aspiring remedial reading specialists being taught by Ph.D.s in the field, learning to assess results and then design a course of study after those assessments. It provides, at the very least, basic remediation.”
“There is magic that goes on,” added Slotnick. “You never really know what you can unlock in these kids. This program provides a powerful understanding of some very unresponsive kids.”
The idea is to build upon the sound-symbol relationships. Some kids coming in can’t associate certain sight words with their sound. This highly individualistic program is designed to instruct activities to address gaps. “It’s lots of planning and familiarizing ourselves with each kid,” said Slotnick. “And as we do we see changes in body language and the kids becoming more confident, becoming empowered. It is transforming — miraculous to see happen to these kids who were considered slow or marginally educable, like that woman’s daughter.”
Slotnick’s role in this is not as a teacher.He’s the grizzled old guy who kind of makes sure everything runs pretty well. He recruits kids for the program, contacting schools in Ulster County, both public and private. Home schoolers, un-schoolers, and everyone in between.
“It’s an incredible resource, and how people acquire literacy is more in demand.” Said Slotnick. “It started out small, but as the understanding of literacy expanded, so did these programs.”
Slotnick can only smile about that turning point in his “second life” where he decided to get involved again in public education. “Life is about how I’m being, not what I’m doing,” he said. “This program speaks to that desire.”
If you would like more information about the Literacy Center, Sam Slotnick can be reached through the Department of Education, Old Main Building 8101 at SUNY-New Paltz. Call him at 257-2809, or fax 257-2846, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.