Avid readers agree that to open your mind, you need only open a book. Mrs. Colleen Thurmond, the Response to Intervention (RtII) Teacher at New Garden Elementary School, teaches students to use reading this way.
Mrs. Thurmond has taught everything from preschool to fifth grade in her 32-year career; 29 of those years have been at New Garden Elementary. She attended West Chester University and received her undergraduate degree in elementary education before receiving her master’s in literacy, allowing her to become a reading specialist.
“At each opportunity, I’ve learned so much about teaching,” explains Mrs. Thurmond. “I constantly strive to try new positions to learn more at every level. It has been a lot of fun to explore different opportunities.”
Mrs. Thurmond knew early on that she loved education, so after college she went right into teaching at the preschool level in Connecticut. Next, she got a classroom teaching position in South Carolina. She loves Southeastern Pennsylvania, so she moved back and got a job at Kennett Consolidated School District as a fifth-grade teacher. She has been with the District ever since. While her primary focus is on reading, she also enjoys teaching math, social studies, and science.
“When I first started teaching, I wanted to learn more about how kids learn to read,” says Mrs. Thurmond. “I was intrigued by the learning process. Response to Intervention covers reading, writing, and math. This approach looks at the whole child to see how they’re progressing across the board. Every aspect is considered. We even look to see if their behavior could be affecting their learning.”
Mrs. Thurmond puts interventions and strategies in place to be sure that every student is successful. If a student is struggling with fluency, for example, Mrs. Thurmond will have them do repeated readings. The idea behind this is that as a student re-reads a story or passage, they will begin to feel more comfortable with the words. The more comfortable they are with the words, the more they will comprehend the passage.
“I work with students in first through fifth grades, so it can be challenging to make sure all students are progressing. We look at math and reading data three times a year: fall, winter, spring. This lets me take the pulse and see how students are doing. Some students are monitored more frequently. Then, of course, I follow up to make sure that the strategies are working.”
Watching the students grow is a big reason why Mrs. Thurmond loves her work. Students begin in first grade as one type of learner and leave the school a whole new person, both academically and personally.
“I really get to know the students, and the parents too,” says Mrs. Thurmond. “It’s great fun to have that community feeling when working together with the students. It’s fun to see the spark in their eyes. Students will tell me ‘I can’t read’—then, usually around January, all the pieces begin falling together and they say, ‘I can read!’”
In addition to her role as the Response to Intervention (RtII) Teacher at New Garden Elementary School, Mrs. Thurmond is also a Shelter Instructional Observation Protocol (SIOP) facilitator and presenter for the District, as part of a program that helps students build their background knowledge to help them learn in the classroom. She serves on the English Language Arts (ELA) Committee, which is working on developing a “grammar scope” to look at what’s being taught and when. She is also on the Word Study Committee, which looks at phonics development and vocabulary from kindergarten through middle school and is evaluating materials that will benefit all learners.
Outside of school, Mrs. Thurmond loves to read and spend time with her husband of 30 years, Benton, and daughter, Jaime, who graduated from the Kennett Consolidated School District. She also loves to spoil her three pets: one dog and two cats. Her happy place is the beach.