Worthington educator Kellie Ehlers knows how to help struggling readers -- she's been at it for nearly 29 years and the accolades keep coming.

Worthington educator Kellie Ehlers knows how to help struggling readers -- she's been at it for nearly 29 years and the accolades keep coming.

She received a state commendation Aug. 23 at the Back to School Bash at Evening Street Elementary School, where she teaches, specializing in Reading Recovery.

State Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) presented Ehlers with the commendation from the Ohio House of Representatives, recognizing her selection as the 2015 District 6 Ohio Teacher of the Year. District 6 represents the majority of Franklin, Delaware and Licking counties.

That honor was announced last summer, but Ehlers also was named one of five finalists for this year's Ohio Teacher of the Year.

It was her second time as a finalist; she was named one of five finalists for that title in 2011, when former Worthington teacher Tim Dove won Ohio Teacher of the Year.

Ehlers, a resident of Upper Arlington, is one of two teacher representatives on the Reading Recovery Council of North America's board of directors and is an adjunct professor assisting teachers with graduate work for university credit. She works on the district's Balanced Literacy Framework committee and facilitates professional development through a "Behind the Glass" learning lab at Sutter Park Elementary School, where teachers observe Reading Recovery best practices firsthand through a one-way mirror.

She also trains Project MORE volunteers, who weekly read with and mentor struggling readers.

In 2009, Ehlers won the district's Gary Smith Compassionate Teaching Award, after designing the PropELL program to help high school language learners. That program led to the CARDS reading lab at Thomas Worthington High School, for any high school student who struggles with reading.

"I have been teaching Reading Recovery at Evening Street for 15 years and I still love it," Ehlers said. "It is life-changing for first-grade students who struggle with reading and writing."

The program is a short-term intervention for children who initially were found to be at-risk in reading and writing.

"It is not a canned program," Ehlers said. "It is systematically designed and grounded in early literacy theory and practice, developed by Dr. Marie Clay after years of research."

She said the lessons use hands-on reading and writing activities.

"Children love all the multimodality choices such as writing in a sand tray, or using colored chalk on the chalkboard, using the dry-erase board or magnetic letters," she said. "They also love their alphabet books and tactile-letter books.

"It's all about tapping into the child's strengths as a learner by utilizing his or her learning styles," she said. "Building upon what a child knows and can already do accelerates his or her learning."

Ehlers said the retention of third-graders through the state's Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, in which students are retained in third grade if they do not achieve a benchmark score on a state test, is not the way to help struggling readers.

"Retention is just wrong," she said. "There is no scientific evidence that supports retention. A lot of children can read and are very capable of passing the third-grade assessment, but many factors can interfere."

She said 9-year-olds have trouble sitting and focusing on a test for an hour and a half.

"Some kids just can't focus that long; some may have other health impairments; some are language learners and are deemed to be able to take the test, but they are truly not ready," she said.

She said Worthington City Schools has had safety nets in place long before the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee. The district screens children as they enter kindergarten to determine who might need reading intervention, using reading assessments to inform teaching and track reading growth for all students, including gifted students.

"Information gleaned in these assessments is used to design instruction and develop a plan of action for every student," she said. "Then we constantly adjust instruction to accelerate growth. We put programs, resources, materials and technologies into place to help them."

Ehlers said strong ties between home and school are keys to success.

"It takes all of us working together to ensure that all children succeed," she said. "I am so proud to work in Worthington because I see this happening every day. I have never seen a child who did not want to learn or a family who did not want their child to succeed."