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Local educators honored for helping turn students into readers

Two TTSD employees were presented with Literacy Awards in recognition of their dedication to making students readers at the local level

Karen Johnson became a teacher because she wasn’t old enough to have a midlife crisis, but was old enough to need a change.

After years of working jobs that she said weren’t soul satisfying, she went back to school in pursuit of her teaching license with the notion that teaching would be more fulfilling than the other careers she’d held. She was right.

On Wednesday, May 20, Johnson, who teaches eighth grade language arts at Twality Middle School, and Laura Kintz, principal at Alberta Rider Elementary School, were honored with Literacy Awards. The accolades, granted by the Portland Reading Council, recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to literacy at the local level. Along with Johnson and Kintz, Carrie Blythe, a teacher in the North Clackamas School District, was also honored. Johnson

“My class slogan is to ‘become powerfully literate.’ Not to be functionally literate, but to be in control of how they think, write and communicate,” said Johnson. “And if you’re powerfully literate, you have to be a reader.”

Understanding this means that Johnson makes reading — and finding books that actually resonate with her students — a priority in her classroom. So, more than 1,000 books find a home in her classroom, and subsequently temporary homes wherever the students take them. She tries to bring in books from all genres and at varying difficluty levels to ensure that every student can find something of interest.

“I would say my gift in life is getting the right book in the right student’s hands,” she said. “My students say I have a book-buying problem. ... Students want to come to me instead of the school library.”Kintz

And though she might not be in the classroom as often as Johnson is, Kintz takes literacy just as seriously. She spends as much time as she can reading aloud to classes, and working with teachers and staff members to ensure that her students are successful at the reading skills they’re learning.

“I was an avid reader growing up. Being a proficient, well-read student opened a lot of doors for me as an adult,” Kintz said. “I’m constantly thinking about how to inspire students to read more on their own because the best way to be a good reader is to read a lot.”

Of course, reading to some extent is a requirement of school at every level. But neither Kintz nor Johnson want their students to only read because they have to — they want them to read because they want to, because they enjoy diving into a story and hanging out with the characters.

“They are so hungry for real books about real life that speak to them. ... Having reading that’s real makes a difference for them,” said Johnson. “Once a student has read a book they like, it can truly be life-changing.”

Kintz agreed.

“For us to learn something new, there has to be a little emotion tied to it. If we are highly motivated to read, we’re going to read more and enjoy it and relish in the new words we’re learning and the characters,” she said. “Seeing a student learn to read and become a better reader, and enjoy learning to read is one of the best things I can imagine.”

But this often doesn’t happen by magic. It takes teachers such as Johnson to constantly show her students how powerful reading can be and the effect it can have on their lives. She shows them that she loves reading, too, and every Friday, they have a silent reading day, which Johnson said is her students’ favorite day of the week. The reason they love it so much, she said, is because they’ve found books they like — often books from her classroom that she helped them choose — and that they can’t wait to immerse themselves in again.

“It’s a puzzle,” she said of finding the right books for her students. “It’s a whole mystery to be solved, and it’s fun for me to do that.”


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