A retired Big Rapids educator uses a unique method to teach reading

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BIG RAPIDS – Former Big Rapids educator helps bridge educational gaps in reading comprehension through her tutoring program for studentsoriginally founded to honor the life of her late husband.

Kathi Parker is a third generation teacher and previously worked as a reading specialist at Big Rapids Public Schools. She received her Bachelor of Education from Central Michigan University, then continued her studies at Northern Michigan University.

Throughout her teaching journey, Parker has seen many approaches to teaching reading comprehension.

One summer, while working as a teacher on the Upper Peninsula, she was educated in the dyslexic method of teaching reading and spelling during an intense two-week training session at Orton-Gillingham.

After honing her skills in the approach, she saw the difference it made in student success.

His students won the Golden Apple Award, earning the highest score in the state on standardized tests in writing, science, and social studies. All fifth-grade students passed the writing, and more than 90 percent passed the science and social studies tests.

“I was asked why my kids did so well, and I think it was because every kid could read and spell, I mean every kid,” Parker said. “If they can read and spell, it didn’t hinder their writing. There wasn’t a word they were afraid of, they could tackle it.”

She then moved to northern Michigan to work as a Title I teacher, before finding work as a reading comprehension specialist at BRPS.

After retiring from BRPS and later suffering the loss of her husband Tom, she decided to put her grief to good use and edit her Connect Phonics materials to make them available to all teachers and parents completely free of charge.

Today, through the Connect Phonics and Spelling program, Parker works with local families and children who are looking for an extra educational boost.

“It’s called differentiated instruction,” Parker said. “When you add the song, the story is (meant) to have an emotional connection. We’ve never had a child who couldn’t learn to read using this method. I founded the program in honor of my husband Tom’s life because I really felt that his loss had to mean something and creating the program helps me turn my grief into something positive in his memory.

Connect Phonics is a course for students with dyslexia, however, the course is intended for use by all students. The approach uses stories, coloring pages, songs and games to provide this emotional connection, which permanently fuses the recall of patterns into the words.

Parker spent three summers creating the Connect Spelling program, which helps teach students why words are spelled a certain way by dividing the most common spelling words by word pattern or syllable type.

The program was created to teach decoding and spelling to 100% of first, second and third graders, and the full curriculum contains over 90 units, divided into lessons by level.

Parker said he heard about many of the challenges students and teachers face in the classroom.

“They say with electronics, kids really have a hard time paying attention,” Parker said. “Another thing is that parents don’t work with their kids at home, and I created my program for free because I thought parents couldn’t afford a ton of money. The teachers I know, and in my personal experience in a classroom, you spend so much of your own money that I offered it for free.

She hopes the techniques will one day be incorporated into university teaching where teachers really need them.

Parker reached out to Ferris State University to offer an educational introduction for students, but struggled to move the idea forward. She has also offered to help educate paraprofessionals at some schools, but still strives to spread information about her programs.

Susan Finney, Action Angels Literacy in action program, is also a dedicated supporter of the Dyslexic Method and often works with Parker on the education of local youth.

“If we made it free for schools, they’re going to appreciate it,” Parker said. “But that’s how passionate (Susan Finney) and I are because it works. We’ve seen the difference it makes, and I want to share this potential for student success with anyone.

Outside of tutoring sessions with local clients, Parker enjoys spending time with friends and caring for her new King Charles Cavalier puppy, Tilly, who keeps her company most days.

Connect Phonics and Spelling programming is available for download via Parker’s website at www.connectphonicsandspelling.com.

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