Helping others and loving it

Reading therapist Valerie Backo smiles as she displays a picture one of her students made to convey he went from hating reading to an “I am a reader,” mindset. Bob McDonnell / the Surveyor

Reading therapist Valerie Backo smiles as she displays a picture one of her students made to convey he went from hating reading to an “I am a reader,” mindset.
Bob McDonnell / the Surveyor

By Bob McDonnell
The Surveyor

If a person is in a job they love, it is easy to tell. This is true of Berthoud resident Valerie Backo. She is a reading specialist at the Children’s Speech and Reading Center (CSRC). She is fairly new to Berthoud, but not to the field of teaching children to read.

Backo, who lived in Pennsylvania and New York, grew up on a dairy farm outside Cooperstown, N.Y. This rural upbringing is a big part of how she and her husband came to live in Berthoud. It has the same feel as the area she was used to. Walking her dog near downtown Berthoud cemented the feeling Berthoud was to be her home. Friendly people stopped and talked to her during her dog walk. “This is where we want to raise our child,” she said, in reference to her 3-1/2-year-old son.

Before coming to the nonprofit CSRC in June, Backo taught and was a reading specialist at Loveland’s Sarah Milner School and in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins. She holds a master’s degree as a reading specialist.’

Backo does reading and speech therapy at CSRC’s Fort Collins and Loveland locations. Dave Boon, CSRC’s executive director, says he wants to offer this type of assistance in Berthoud soon. He is working with schools and churches in the area to see how this can be worked out.

“I landed my dream job,” is how Backo feels about her position at CSRC. She points out she does reading therapy, not tutoring. Back says the staff working with children at CSRC are all certified teachers or specialists. Everyone has at least a four-year degree. Backo noted anyone can call themselves a tutor. She and her peers have specific education. They attend and present at conferences related to reading and speech.

Backo likes initially seeing children in a larger setting, then pulling them into smaller groups. “Fill in the gaps” to help them get to their grade level or higher, is how she explains it.

She particularly enjoys working one-on-one with a child, then having a conversation with the parents right after a session. Many times, the parents sit in on the instructional sessions, she says.  Backo feels she can make a powerful connection with the parents while helping their child. At times, she also works with young people with dyslexia, autism an ADHD.

Some children come for one hour a week or two full hours a week. In the pre-literacy programs, Backo works with 4-year-olds for 40 minutes a week.

She knows her efforts change children’s lives. She feels they are given confidence to enter kindergarten. She says those CSRC assists will be at the expected level for their age. Currently she works with preschools in Fort Collins and Loveland. “I would love to start a pre-literacy group in Berthoud,” Backo says, echoing the sentiment of her executive director.

Backo goes beyond using the traditional flash cards for teaching letters. On occasion, she uses Play-Doh or candy, and other fun techniques. “My goal is to have interaction and fun” when doing one-on-one with children, she says.

The concept Backo uses to help students be ready to read, or to get to grade level, is what she calls a language triangle. This includes visually seeing words, saying or explaining them, and then physically writing them down. Her goal is to have this triangle be a natural part of the students’ thought process at school and at home. “This is a skill they can take with them for life,” Backo proudly stated.
The CRSC’s main office is located at 1330 Oakridge Dr., Suite 10, in Fort Collins. For more information, contact Dave Boon, executive director at 419-0486. Their website is www.csrckids.org.

“I love it here −I love it here. I love the parent communication piece and kids having self-esteem,”  she said.

The Children’s Speech and Reading Center (CSRC) started in 1993 when Colorado State University closed its graduate speech and audiology program and university clinic.

The CSRC mission is to enable children with speech-language delays and disorders to communicate clearly and effectively so they may reach their full academic, social and development potential.

CSRC is Northern Colorado’s only 501(c)(3) nonprofit reading and speech therapy provider. CSRC provides free screenings of all children for reading delays and speech and language pathologies.

In 2015, the Children’s Speech and Reading Center provided:

177 free speech-language screenings for children ages 0 to 12 years of age

172 free screenings in local preschools

4,236 individual one-on-one speech-language-reading therapy sessions to 217 children

CSRC provides services on a sliding fee scale. Currently, more than 80 percent of CSRC’s clients qualify for reduced-fee services.

The Children’s Speech and Reading Center is located at 1330 Oakridge Dr.,Suite 10, in Fort Collins. The telephone number is 970-419-0486.