2016-06-10 / Schools

Citizen scholars impact younger generation

Seniors create reading intervention program for elementary English learners
By Melissa Simon

Jenna Ohler and Zoey Dew set out to make their mark on the next generation during their senior year of high school.

The two 17-year-olds, who graduated June 2 from Royal High School, created a reading intervention program for nearly 30 English language learners at Hollow Hills Elementary School in Simi Valley, the girls’ alma mater.

The project fulfilled a requirement for earning the Ronald Reagan Citizen Scholar Institute (CSI) diploma seal. CSI is an educational partnership between Royal and the Reagan Library that aims to provide civic education and political experience to students.

Jenna said her older sister, Shawna, started a similar reading intervention program for Hollow Hills students in 2014 for her CSI project. But while it proved highly successful for those involved, only eight students participated.

This time, Jenna and Zoey decided to create a reading intervention program focused specifically on English learners.

“We believed that it would help us teach more students and . . . it also created a safer learning environment for the students because they could ask any questions and not feel like they are holding back the class,” Jenna said.

Zoey worked with 16 third- through sixth-grade students and focused on community and service.

“I had them perform their own skits demonstrating selfless acts,” she said. “Jenna also created her own activities, like a matching game.”

Jenna’s group was made up of 12 children in kindergarten and first and second grades.

“We would write stories in class, and then I would have them share if they wanted. The imagination and love these kids have cannot be described,” she said. “They . . . improve each and every day. These students come . . . because they want to learn, and there is nothing else I could ask for.”

The best part of the project, Zoey said, was seeing the impact she could make on a child’s life.

“Throughout the class, the children began to grow more confident in themselves . . . and being able to watch their transformation into more confident students was incredible,” she said.

By the end of the program, Zoey said, the kids’ reading levels had significantly improved compared to other English language learners who did not participate.

Looking ahead

High school was all about academics and volleyball for Zoey.

The daughter of David and Rosalie Dew, the graduate was a member of the National Honor Society, the California Scholarship Federation and the Point West VBC club.

She played volleyball all four years of high school and was a member of the All Coastal Canyon First Team in 2014 and 2015 and the Coastal Canyon League champion team last year.

Zoey’s life has been most influenced by her mother, Rosalie, who moved to America from the Philippines in her 20s.

“My mom has really influenced me to push through any obstacles . . . and (she) is the reason I understand that you can always keep pushing yourself to be the best.”

Jenna, the daughter of Jon and Terri Ohler, was a drum major in the Royal Highland Brigade and trombone captain in 2014 and 2015.

The recent graduate was a member of the National Honor Society, the Key Club, the French Honor Society and the California Scholarship Federation.

She said her biggest influence is her sister, Shawna, who inspired her to help others.

“Shawna always helps me to rise to my greatest potential, and . . . she is my motivation to help others better their lives,” Jenna said.

Jenna will attend Loyola Marymount University, where she will major in business marketing. Ten years from now, she said, she hopes to be starting her own business.

Zoey plans to study cognitive science at UCLA in the fall, with an aim to be a school psychologist.

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