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Staff Focus: Sara Wolfson, Reading Support Teacher, Running Brook Elementary School

January 24th, 2018

Sara Wolfson profile, sitting in classroom.

Running Brook Elementary School Reading Support Teacher Sara Wolfson increases students’ literacy capabilities through schoolwide reading and writing initiatives for both teachers and students.

Originally from Westchester County in New York, Wolfson earned her bachelor’s in education and master’s in reading from Towson University in Maryland. She’s been a Howard County Public School System teacher since 2002, beginning at Jeffers Hill Elementary School. She was a classroom teacher and team leader at Fulton Elementary School and a reading specialist at St. John’s Lane Elementary School prior to becoming a reading support teacher at Running Brook Elementary School.

Wolfson has several roles at Running Brook. “My main role is working with the teachers and supporting them with their instruction. Together we develop interventions, design curriculum and discuss best literacy practices.” Wolfson is part of the Instructional Support Team at Running Brook that works together to put interventions in place for students who need extra support.

Sara Wolfson sitting in meeting with other staff members.

“Sara inspires the reading teachers at our school. She is a model for what we might become and she challenges us to become better than we are. She helps us develop our practice and access the resources we need,” says Jeanette Swank, fifth grade English Language Arts/Social Studies teacher at Running Brook. “She is a friendly, welcoming and positive person with a wealth of knowledge about reading. It takes a special combination of attitudes and skills to be an effective reading support teacher and Sara is one of the best.”

Wolfson leads several activities to engage all students in reading, whether below, on, or above grade level. She does reading and writing demonstration lessons in classrooms from K–5. She also runs a breakfast club for students at all levels. “Last year I ran a Books and Breakfast Club where students came each week and I would do a book talk. The kids would take home a book for the week and then then give their own book talk the following week. The students would then swap books. That got the other kids excited about reading. The students got a chance to figure what types of books they liked to read.” This year, Wolfson will lead a writing club with the same format as the book club.

Wolfson transitioned from being a classroom teacher to a reading specialist in 2013. It was an easy transition because she was still working directly with students every day, just in smaller groups of students. Becoming a reading support teacher, however, was a bigger change. “It was a big jump from being a reading specialist to being a reading support teacher knowing that I wouldn’t have my own group of students. I was afraid I was going to miss that, but I actually have the best of both worlds right now because I get to work with and support teachers, and I get to work with and support students in the classroom,” Wolfson explains.

Sara Wolfson sitting at roundtable with students.

As a reading support teacher, Wolfson can reach more students than ever. “As a teacher and reading specialist, I only had an impact on a small group of students. Now I can see I have an impact on a much larger number of students. By working with the teachers in every single grade level, I have an opportunity to create a larger impact on many more students.”

“Sara is an amazing reading support teacher who goes above and beyond what is expected to make sure that teachers have what they need so that students can learn,” says Kristen Mangus, math support teacher at Running Brook.

Another of Wolfson’s roles is as a mentor for new teachers. She was recently assigned as the mentor for a new teacher to the school. “I did a lot of model lessons in her classroom to help her set up her routine at the beginning of the school year. We meet regularly to plan and I provide extra professional learning to catch her up the more experienced staff.”

Last school year, Wolfson applied for a Teacher Impact grant from ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). She was awarded $10,000, which she used to increase literacy-based student engagement.

“When we first got the grant we were thinking that we needed to hire people to come in and give professional learning to our staff. The more we worked with our teachers, the more we realized that we had the best right here in the building. This allowed us to give each teacher a lump sum from the grant amount to purchase books and materials. They each took it in their own different direction. The activities they planned were fabulous,” explains Wolfson. The impact of the funds is still being felt in the school as many of the ideas and strategies developed by the teachers and Wolfson continue to be implemented in all grade levels.

“Really, the kids are what drives me. When students come find me to tell me about new books that they are reading, or ask to come to my office and check out the books in my room, or ask me to recommend a book for them, that inspires me. I’m motivated when teachers stop me in the hallway or come find me to tell me the great things they are using in their classroom that came from our professional learning session. Knowing I make an impact on the teachers that then has an impact on the students is what keeps me going.”

Sara Wolfson reading a book.