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Updated: October 23, 2021 @ 6:24 am

Barb Willemssen sits at the desk where she leads one-on-one sessions as the literacy interventionist at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary in Sibley. She helps K-4 students who are struggling to keep up and retain reading skills in a new program the school district is funding with its cut of federal COVID-19 relief.
Tate Kellenberger stands outside his office in the Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School library in Sibley. He is teaching 5-8 students in a new district initiative to aid pupils behind their grade’s reading standards so they have the skills to succeed in high school and life after education.

Barb Willemssen sits at the desk where she leads one-on-one sessions as the literacy interventionist at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary in Sibley. She helps K-4 students who are struggling to keep up and retain reading skills in a new program the school district is funding with its cut of federal COVID-19 relief.
SIBLEY—Many students fell behind in reading when schools closed for the pan­­demic, and the Sibley-Ocheyedan School District has two new teachers to get them on the same page as their peers.
Barb Willemssen and Tate Kellenberger are the literacy interventionists at the district’s elementary and middle schools. Their new positions were created with federal funds through the American Rescue Plan.
“The money is there be­­cause of COVID, but we’ve always had this concern,” Willemssen said.
The roles are paid for through three school years. After that, the reading classes will be assessed. Until then, the duo is hard at work to get students ready to read.
Right inside the entrance of Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary, there’s a room that would be mistaken for a closet if it wasn’t for the name on the door.
Position: K-4 literacy interventionist at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary
Age: 54
Residence: Milford
Education: Bachelor’s in health and special education at Mankato State University in Minnesota, 1990; master’s in exercise science education at University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, 2007.
Experience: 30 years teaching special education in Minnesota and Iowa, including 19 years at Sibley-Ocheyedan.
Family: Husband, Brad; daughters, Jamie and Jenifer
Interests: Sports, crocheting and time with grandchildren.
Willemssen teaches her one-on-one sessions with the school’s struggling readers in the close quarters. Each of her nine students in kindergarten through fourth grade gets a 30-minute session daily.
“I was working with 10, but I had one graduate already,” Willemssen said. “She was kind of in a summer slump, so when she tested at the beginning of the school year, she didn’t do so well on certain assessments. Then she just took off.”
The teacher uses a research-driven curriculum called foundational literacy intervention, which is how she got her title, and the program boils down into what it calls the five pillars of reading:
“Most of the time in this building, it’s usually phonemic awareness or phonics because they miss something along the way — letter sounds, letter names, putting the segments together,” Willemssen said.
Literacy skill builds on itself, she explained, and this way of supplementing learning boosts students who would otherwise fall behind and stay there.
“Say you’ve got a kid from first to second grade who didn’t master everything, or was in quarantine, or we didn’t have school or whatever the issue, and they’re trying the second-grade stuff and they’re not understanding because they don’t have the building blocks,” Willemssen said. “Eventually, it would be nice not to intervene in the older kids, but be proactive early on.”
Her counterpart deals with those older students at the middle school, just a block down Fifth Street in Sibley.
He might be more recognizable as the Generals’ head football coach, but Kellenberger’s day job is helping students off the field.
Position: 5-8 literacy interventionist at Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School
Age: 27
Residence: Sibley
Education: Bachelor’s of elementary education Northwestern College in Orange City, 2017;
Experience: Four years teaching special education at Sibley-Ocheyedan.
Family: Single
Interests: Golf, coaching football, basketball and track and hanging out with family and friends.
Helping design the program from the beginning, he was a special education instructor like Willemssen. His lessons also are similar albeit advanced to fit the needs of the district’s learners in fifth through eighth grade.
“Science of reading says if you’re missing a gap way back when you should’ve learned that, it’s going to create trouble for you way down the road. Until you close that gap back there, fix it, you won’t be able to go where you need to go,” Kellenberger said.
With his students being a few years older, he said the emphasis is usually on the later skills of fluency and comprehension.
To focus on those areas, Kellenberger has embraced a districtwide focus on data to direct his instruction. In his role, the literacy interventionist has put the district’s research to use by identifying and treating individuals’ issues.
“I really enjoyed those first couple weeks of looking at past years’ data for some kids and comparing it to where they are now,” Kellenberger said. “We can see some kids who raise some red flags throughout that we haven’t been able to give services. Now that we have this, we’re able to give services.”
Throughout the school day, he works in 20-minute sessions with one or two high-need students at a time. For intermediate-need readers, Kellenberger holds a class of a couple dozen.
Tate Kellenberger stands outside his office in the Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School library in Sibley. He is teaching 5-8 students in a new district initiative to aid pupils behind their grade’s reading standards so they have the skills to succeed in high school and life after education.
He said the levels of learning better fit what challenges students have.
But a bigger challenge than the rote skills is helping students who do not want to learn.
“You get some eighth-graders who think they can read perfectly fine and things like that,” the teacher said. “You encourage them that this might, to you, seem like it’s not important — but as you grow older, there’s going to be more difficult things that you’re asked to read and need to comprehend.”
Getting students prepared for high school and adulthood is Kellenberger’s mission. At the end of the day, it’s just about giving the young people the tools they need to find their own success.
“A lot of times with struggling readers, they don’t like to read. They don’t have fun reading. Hopefully, it will give them a desire to read because that helps you grow with knowledge in anything,” he said. “If you go out and read different things, it helps you gain knowledge in every aspect in life.”
SIBLEY—Students at Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School are eligible to participate in a travel opportunity described by organizers as a “trip of a …
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