In his on-stage debut, Tom Nguyen simply wowed the audience. In fact, he sang his way to becoming Hillsborough County’s first-ever Reading Idol.
Due to his outstanding performance of “Blue Suede Shoes,” Nguyen, a fifth-grader at Temple Terrace Elementary School, took home a four-year scholarship to any public Florida university.
He already thinks he knows which college it will be.
“I want to go to the University of South Florida,” Nguyen said. “I want to be an architect, because I like to draw tall buildings and homes.”
He said getting up on stage at Busch Gardens and singing was a great experience.
“I haven’t had a chance to do anything on stage before,” he said. “I really liked it. It was fun.”
Nguyen’s mother Quang and stepfather Hung Duong, both of whom speak very little English, are very happy for him and are extremely proud.
The $25,000 tuition allotment is being funded by the Hillsborough Education Foundation and Electronic Learning Products.
Electronic Learning Products developed a learn-to-read program called Tune In To Reading, where students learn to become better readers by singing. The reading/singing program tracks a student’s progress and gives a score after the student finishes.
“Hillsborough County has been researching a new computer program,” said Keith Rupp, public affairs coordinator. “The kids sing into the headset and by singing become better readers. It is being researched by USF and is used in 11 schools in Hillsborough County.”
Out of 800 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students in 11 Hillsborough County schools, a winner was chosen from each school. The student with the highest score went to the competition at Busch Gardens March 10.
“The kids had a friendly competition to show their talent and receive rewards for their improvement,” Rupp said. “We have found with the reading program, kids have improved their reading quality by one-and-a-half grade levels in nine weeks.”
When Nguyen started at the school in first grade in the English as a Second Language program, he could only speak Vietnamese.
“I have known him since he started here in the first grade,” said ESOL resource teacher Sandra Reina. “This year he is released out of the program and working independently. His comprehension and fluency are much improved.”
Laura McConnell is his teacher. She said Nguyen gained confidence from the contest.
“He was very concerned about how to explain it to his family,” McConnell said. “It is very important to him to stay close to home. This program has brought out a whole new child in Tom. He was talking to teachers and thanking all the other students in his class.”
Principal Mary Frances Leto said she has been trying to help him decide where he would like to go to school.
“He wants to go to USF so he can stay close to home,” Leto said. “It is very important to him to stay close to his parents. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to help one of our students. He is very deserving. I am thrilled his education is secure.”
Leto said the Tune In To Reading program is amazing.
“I have seen it work,” Leto said. “Some children’s reading levels rose by two grade levels in nine weeks. I don’t think there is any one program that will make a child successful though. Nothing can take the place of a highly qualified teacher standing in front of the classroom driving that program home.”
McConnell said the students love the program.
“The kids find it to be lots of fun,” McConnell said. “Tom is a great student and the other students were so excited for him. When we first started using the program, students were getting five to 10 percent for their scores, now they have grown so much they are getting between 70 and 90 percent scores.”
The reading/singing program uses real-time pitch tracking technology to give a score that reflects the amount of time they sang on pitch. This program helped students go up two to three reading grade levels and has since been tested out in schools throughout Hillsborough County.
“One thing I am the most thrilled about is that I went out to the schools and met the kids six to nine weeks ago,” said Chuck Millard, the director of marketing and the producer of Reading Idol for Electronic Learning Products said. “I saw the change in these kids, in their confidence. The program will work whether the children are struggling in reading or good at it. Through our research, we have discovered it doesn’t matter what grade or level of reading they are at, all the students in the program are getting the same growth.”
Electronic Learning Products and the Hillsborough Education Foundation have been working on presenting the contest every year.
The Reading Idol contest helped secure two other students’ future education. Finishing in second place was Sasha Cordova from Kenly Elementary School. She will receive a two-year scholarship to any public Florida community college and a two-year scholarship to a Florida state university.
Placing third was Michael Fletcher from Sheehy Elementary School. He was awarded a two-year scholarship to a public Florida community college.
For information, visit readingidols.com.