With his flip-flops off, Michael Martel sat on the edge of his chair Friday morning as a worn cloth book, open to a page printed with large letters, was placed in front of him to sound out.
"This will probably be pretty darn easy for you, Michael," said Rick Martin, vice principal of Carden Academy of Huntington Beach.
Martin sat behind his desk, listening as the 9-year-old made the sounds of each letter, a little uncertain at times and unaware of what sounds the "v" and "x" made. Although the material was basic phonics, Michael isn't alone in having gaps in his reading skills.
"What we found is many children are inconsistent in the basic consonant sounds," Martin said.
Michael is one of about 12 students Monday who began an intensive summer reading program with Carden Academy. The private school, which focuses on teaching students to read at a young age using phonetics, is test-driving the free pilot program, Reading Challenge 2010, to help struggling readers get up to speed.
"We're looking at ways to reach out into the community for people who aren't well off financially, so they can have the benefit of a Carden education," Martin said.
The five-week program takes children 5 to 11 years old for half-day classes. Students work on reading from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and then have art instruction for an additional hour.
The students are taught from the basics up, said teacher Peggy Metz, who is instructing the beginning readers.
The students are broken up into groups of six for lessons around Carden's signature U-shaped reading tables, where the teacher sits in the bend to be able to connect with each student, Martin said.
"I can tell who is not on the right word, who is not on the right sentence," Metz said. "By doing that, I'm able to catch things."
The students will be taught the foundation of reading holistically using visual, oratory, spatial and tactile learning methods, Martin said.
Two of Michael's older sisters went to Carden for several years and learned the foundation of reading and were ahead of their peers when they transferred to public school, said their mother, Marcia Martel. But she couldn't afford to send Michael to the private school.
She started seeing Michael struggle with reading in first grade.
"At first, we thought it was his eyes," she said.
They got him glasses, and he started to improve. He also got involved in a reading program at Harbour View Elementary School, which helped but eventually took too much time away from the classroom, Martel said.
The soon-to-be-fourth-grader has no problem in math and science, but when it comes to doing his reading homework, he just sits there and stares at it for hours, Martel said.
"I'm just tired of seeing him so defeated," she said.
Despite the struggles, Michael has found a book series, "Franny K. Stein," that has captivated his attention, and he said he now likes reading.
Michael said he is "happy" about starting the program and wants to work on pronouncing words — what he feels he struggles with the most — but he wants to be involved in all aspects.
"I want to succeed in everything," he said.
Carden is accepting six more students and is looking for additional students for future sessions.
Contact Vice Principal Rick Martin at (714) 536-1441 or at email@example.com.