How a hearing-impaired third-grader learned to read

Posted by Rachel Vogel-Quinn on Aug 18, 2017 9:01:53 AM

Breiner Morales Summer in the City

Nine-year-old Breiner Morales speaks three languages: English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. But until last summer, he couldn’t read in any of them.

Breiner failed his hearing test at birth. Fortunately, by age one, he received a cochlear implant. Although the implant makes it much easier for him to hear and communicate, it can make classroom instruction difficult. His teachers have to speak into a special electronic device so he can hear them, and it’s harder for him to understand speech and interpret sounds than it is for other students.

“I learned to read. It feels good.”

- Breiner Morales

United Way of Central Iowa is committed to helping students read proficiently by third grade—the No. 1 predictor of future academic success. The community-wide awareness and action, READ to SUCCEED, encourages reading and literacy activities among parents and caregivers, volunteers, and the business community.

Learn More About  READ to SUCCEED

The special and general education teachers at Karen Acres Elementary in Urbandale—as well as the Spanish interpreter, ELL teacher, speech pathologist, hearing coach, and reading teacher—have all done an amazing job helping Breiner learn.

“The support and the love of his teachers has been very important in my son’s life,” says his mother Maria Morales.

Brenier reading in the school libraryStill, by the end of second grade, Breiner was behind his peers in reading. The gap was concerning, and he had only one year left to master this skill. After third grade, students must know how to read in order to learn other subjects. Students who don’t read at grade level by the end of the year are four times more likely to drop out of school, according to The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. That’s why United Way of Central Iowa launched READ to SUCCEED, a ground-breaking, community-wide awareness and action campaign to help our kids get the skills they need to succeed as students and beyond. 

Breiner enrolled in Karen Acres’ reading camp last summer—part of United Way of Central Iowa’s Summer in the City. The program runs reading and other academic and arts programs for elementary and middle school students at 20 locations around central Iowa. It’s designed to help students avoid summer learning loss, provide opportunities for education and physical activity, and give them access to healthy food and other services.

During Summer in the City, Breiner—and 39 other students from grades 1-5—received two hours of reading instruction three days a week. They would start the day with a mini-lesson focused on comprehension, fluency, accuracy, or vocabulary. Then they would break into small groups based on reading level and receive guided instruction from a teacher—learning to break single syllables apart to sound them out.

Next, Breiner would partner with another student to read aloud from a passage a teacher selected based on his interests: science, especially dinosaurs. He and his partner would take turns reading the same section over and over—a proven strategy to enhance fluency.

Finally, Breiner and his classmates spent time on the computer using the Imagine Learning program, which provides engaging activities that are especially good at teaching vocabulary to English Language Learners.

After eight weeks, Breiner had made big progress.

“I learned to read,” says Breiner. “It feels good.”

Other students saw the same gains. And 57 percent didn’t lose the typical three months of reading comprehension skills that disappear over the summer for at-risk children.

Breiner and his momThe skills Breiner gained during Summer in the City provided a strong foundation for his third-grade year. From September to March, the number of words Breiner could read doubled.

“He is such a hard worker,” says Linda Smith, Breiner’s hearing coach. “He works harder than anyone else.”

His mom says Breiner became more independent during Summer in the City, as well as more confident interacting with his peers. All his teachers at Karen Acres gush about his work ethic, his sweet, happy-go-lucky nature, and his improvement over the past year, especially given that his hearing disability makes reading more difficult for him than for other students.

“Breiner has been through a lot to achieve everything he has done,” says his mom. “It hasn’t been easy for him, but he is always trying to do his best.”

After all the practice in the past year, Breiner now loves to read. His two favorite words are Pokémon and spaceship. When someone asks about his favorite book, he darts off across the school library to the exact place where it’s shelved. He comes back gripping a Pokémon chapter book, grinning.