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A Colorado reading tutor celebrates 25 years of helping kids dig into books


The end of a school year is a significant milestone for lots of people. And for Mary Nettleton, a beloved reading tutor in a tiny Colorado mountain town, it marks 25 years of helping kids dig into books. Laura Palmisano with member station KVNF says Miss Mary hasn't let challenges stand in her way.

LAURA PALMISANO, BYLINE: Once a week since the late 1990s, Mary Nettleton has volunteered at the Lake City Community School. She reads with fourth and fifth graders in this tiny school of just over 80 students.

MARY NETTLETON: One o'clock on Friday afternoon is I'm at school, and I'm always disappointed if they have a field trip.

PALMISANO: Trip Horn is a teacher here.

TRIP HORN: They actually kind of fight over who gets to read with Miss Mary on Friday. So I pick three students every week, but they love her. I think that she's very positive and gives great feedback. It's a great thing for our class.

PALMISANO: Fourth grader Walker Stark is reading with Miss Mary today.

WALKER STARK: I just want to read to someone I don't know. I just usually read by myself. It's helpful, really helpful.

PALMISANO: He's reading to Miss Mary about a museum.

WALKER: Most visited art gallery, the Louvire (ph) museum...

NETTLETON: OK. You want to look at that word. What museum?

WALKER: The Louvire?

NETTLETON: OK - Louvre. It's French.

WALKER: Oh, yeah.

NETTLETON: I correct things that I need to. I explain words. We work on, if the student needs it, fluency and expression and stopping at periods and commas.

PALMISANO: Miss Mary, who's 83, is blind, but she doesn't need to see what the children are reading in order to help them.

NETTLETON: If they're uncomfortable about their reading and are a little embarrassed, it's a safe place. I'm not judging. I'm not a teacher. I'm not a parent, I'm not a friend. I'm just a grandmother who likes to listen to children read.

WALKER: According to The Economist - the...

NETTLETON: Economist.

WALKER: The Economist.

PALMISANO: School just let out for the summer, but Miss Mary is already looking forward to reading with students this fall, like fourth grader Elsa Martin.

ELSA MARTIN: It's chapter three. Say...

NETTLETON: Are you at the end of a chapter?

ELSA: Yeah.

NETTLETON: OK. Well, that's always a good stopping point is with the end of a chapter.

PALMISANO: For NPR News, I'm Laura Palmisano in Lake City, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Palmisano
Laura is a senior reporter and producer for KVNF Community Radio. You may also on occasion hear her host Morning Edition and Local Motion on KVNF. Laura has worked at public radio and television stations in Phoenix and Tucson. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC, Harvest Public Media and the Rocky Mountain Community Radio exchange. She was a 2015 fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award and an Award of Excellence from the Colorado Broadcasters Association. Laura also has experience as a videographer and video editor. She graduated summa cum laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.