Rockford woman’s life mission: teaching others how to read

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — The ability to read and write is a life skill most people learn in elementary school. But some kids who don’t catch on can get left behind.

Dr. Lori Fanello has dedicated her life to making sure no one gets passed over.

“It really hurt me, when I first started out teaching and kids didn’t like reading because it was a struggle for them,” she said.

That feeling inspired her to commit her life to improving literacy in the Stateline.

“This is my passion and I’m doing what I love, and I’m able to do it in retirement,” she said. “Just keeping my hand on the pulse of education is really important to me.”

Dr. Fanello has been a school teacher, coordinator, superintendent of the regional Office of Education, and president of the Literacy Council.

Now in her retirement, she is still helping to promote reading in Rockford schools through the Virginia-based Urban Learning and Leadership Center.

“They asked me if I would go in to some of the lowest-achieving schools and work with the teachers, and I thought, ‘you know, that’s something I used to do and I love it,'” she said.

Wednesday, Dr. Fanello stepped in to observe Mr. Saichek’s 7th grade English Language Arts Class at West Middle School, at 1900 N. Rockton Avenue, watching as he implemented newer teaching strategies.

“The reason why I like working with the teachers is, when you work with the teachers and the teachers are working with all different groups, then all of the students benefit from the strategies and learning how to do things differently,” she said.

“In the old days, it was the ’round robin’ reading, where you just read then you read, then you read, and everybody was reading ahead to see what they needed to do, and nobody was really getting the meaning of the reading, because they’re just looking at just what they needed to read,” she continued. “Well, [with new techniques], we’re teaching to read for meaning. We’re teaching them how to figure out what the word is.”

While Mr. Saichek’s class is reading focused, Dr. Fanello says literacy is important in every subject.

“Science and social studies, and even the math teachers, most of the question of the test for math are story problems that they have to get the meaning to be able to figure out how to get the answers,” she said.

Her literacy work isn’t limited to elementary and middle schools. Through the Literacy Council, Dr. Fanello makes sure those who fell through the cracks have a chance to learn again.

“I had a 35-year-old man who went to school, graduated from Chicago Public Schools, and couldn’t read past a 3rd grade level,” she said. “He couldn’t keep a job. He struggled, and I started working with him and we worked 2 hours, one day a week. I just took an extended lunch hour when I was working and tutored him, using the same strategies that I did with 1st graders, 3rd graders, 5th graders, middle schoolers. And within 18 months, he was ready to go to Rock Valley [College].”

Dr. Fanello says the Urban Learning and Leadership Center programs can be found in several elementary and middle schools in the Rockford area.

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