LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Ruth Winkler

Position: Reading Intervention Aide
School: Altamont Elementary School
School District: Duchesne County School District
City, State: Altamont, UT

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Ruth Winkler was nominated by her principal, Lori Oman.

Ms. Winkler  has been at Altamont Elementary School for 13 years.  During that time, she has been a tremendous asset to her school.  If you were to ask the teachers who or what is the one person or program they could not do without, it would be Ms. Winkler. She began her time at AES as an Americorps reading aide.  During her time with Americorps, she grew to love finding ways to help struggling students learn to read. Ms. Winkler could see that many students needed small group or individual instruction to reinforce classroom instruction, but teachers with a classroom full of students did not have the time or resources to make that happen. Ms. Winkler began her quest to find a way to help those students.  She researched reading programs, reading interventions, and ways to help students.  Americorps positions, however, are only three years long, and they require that you hire someone else.  

The principal at the time made a very valuable decision to keep Ms. Winkler on as an aide for 19 hours a week, and to pay her with Trustlands funds. This allowed Ms. Winkler to develop her own Reading Program that was tailored to individual students' needs. It also allowed her to find and train the volunteers to use her program.

At present time, Ms. Winkler has 60 volunteers that come weekly to her school.  The school has 364 students, and of those students, 110+ receive individualized one-on-one instruction because of Ms. Winkler. She spends countless hours finding, planning for, and training her volunteers.  She makes sure each volunteer has an individualized lesson plan for the student they work with.  

Ms. Winkler focuses strongly, though not exclusively, on grades K-3.  She has made sure that each of the Kindergarten classes has 5 aides that work daily, for approximately forty-five minutes, with small groups of children. One of her colleagues stated, "Without her help, we wouldn’t have the volunteers to run small groups effectively, or to be able to implement our interventions. She is always coming up with a new game to be used to help the children with their reading skills.  She usually calls me at least once during the summer vacation and brings me some new project she has created to be used the next year for reading instruction." 

"Ms. Winkler is an amazing lady who devotes countless hours to what she does," the colleague continued. "In the seven years that I have been teaching here, she has helped over 130 students in just my kindergarten class alone."

At the end of last school year, there were three kindergarten children that were not proficient in reading. Ms. Winkler contacted parents and asked if she could work with them during the summer to close that gap.  It made a big difference. The first grade currently has three students who are below proficient: one of whom moved in this year, and one that has developmental disabilities that makes learning to read more difficult.  According to Dibel’s testing, 93.1% of the first graders are approaching, at, or above proficiency. Oman gives great credit to Ms. Winkler for her hard work in helping make that happen.

School wide, there are 215 students in grades K-3. All but 15 of those are approaching, at, or above proficiency, and seven of those who aren't at proficiency have recently moved in and have not been with Ms. Winkler’s program beginning in kindergarten. That also works out to 93.1% of students are reading at proficiency or better.

One of Oman's teachers sent her a letter recalling how Ms. Winkler was brought on full time to oversee reading development for struggling students, and the resounding success of her work and her team had with fourth and second graders:

“One year, a woman from our community showed up to visit with me. She had been my high school teacher and someone I had admired for years. She began talking with me about one of my students that she had been tutoring. Before the conversation was over, she had volunteered to meet with several of my students during the week to work on helping them bridge their gaps in reading. We got the permission we needed from the principal and the work began. She was successful and helped my students be successful. This work continued for several years. If I remember right, her volunteer time spread to other classrooms.

When a position for someone to support our reading program opened, she was the logical choice. Over the years, she has organized volunteers to read with and to our students. The citizens of our little mountain town have become part of the movement to make our students the best they can be. As her work has evolved, she has become ever more adept at organizing programs and materials and people. When she couldn’t find what she knew she needed, she scavenged and often created the materials herself in the end. I frequently encouraged her to publish these amazing works, but that was not her intention. When there were roadblocks, she thought up unique solutions. When she didn’t finish her work during the allotted hours, she stayed late and later. Volunteers teach the sounds of reading, the sight words and then move on to fluency. She and her husband make beautiful prizes to encourage students to press forward. My students have accomplished unbelievable feats in order to receive a handmade wooden train- car by car.

She helped my fourth graders when I taught at that grade level. And now she teaches my second graders. The needs are great at this level. If we can patch up the holes here, the fifth graders will need far less help. Two years ago, Ms. Winkler organized and prepared a whole brigade of mothers and grandmothers to conduct a beginning of the year assessment for first graders. Imagine the impact of these mothers knowing first hand what is expected of their own child. Imagine how important it is for them to be part of the education system in their community. Imagine how helpful it has been for our teachers to know the exact abilities of those little students with such a short amount of time invested. This project involved hours and hours of calling and arranging. But it was worth it.

Ms. Winkler takes kind and thoughtful care of her volunteers. Some have worked with her for years. She teaches the students to show respect for these good citizens. She organizes thank-you card drives and thank- you luncheons with beautiful posters made by the children. Pictures of students with their volunteers show up in the halls. And even with all this, she finds time to keep in contact with the classroom teacher of each child reporting what progress is being made and what attacks are being made to help each child. She attends faculty meetings so that she knows everything that is going on that might impact her work.

Her effort, her hours, her impact is immeasurable.” (Paula Jenkins, 2nd Grade Teacher)


Comments (4)

Paula Jenkins Posted over a year ago

If only we could have a Ruth at every school... If only more US citizens gave time to improve something in their community....If only more effort was given to strengthen young students.... The world would take a sudden turn for the better. Thank-you Ruth!

Shaylene Posted over a year ago

Ms.Winkler has made such a difference in our children's lives. I worked as an aide this year at AES and she is always checking on me to make sure I am doing stuff the right way. She knows how the kids will get the best help and support and so she just wants to make sure we are all putting in 100% when she hands the responsibility over. The games she comes up with are so fun, the kids are excited to play them when it is time. She puts in so much time at home to have the games and the books ready and organized for our kids. She is an amazing lady!! Our school is sooo lucky to have her!

Tina Wilson Posted over a year ago

As a first year aide I have learned valuable insight in working with children whether it be reading or math. She has a way with children and is eager to help those of us who are "learning the ropes". I love working with Ruth and find her an awesome asset to AES.

Tracy McKinnon Posted over a year ago

I have known who Ruth Winkler is for almost all my life, but I didn't realize who she really is until I became a parent and a teacher. Ruth gives countless hours of her own time to the students at Altamont Elementary. She works full time, but gets paid part time. She is bound and determined that every child will know how to read, write, and do math and I think she meets her goal every year. I can't explain in words how fortunate we are to have her in our school and community. She is able to facilitate reading volunteers to come into the school and work with students one on one. Ruth's impact on the students at Altamont elementary is immeasurable. (Tracy McKinnon Sped Teacher)