Tufts University

Breaking Down Barriers

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"We're always working with Medford, Somerville and Malden. We are extremely interested in taking the kids in the community who are failing and figuring out whether we can teach teachers or do tutoring. Whatever we can do, we try," Wolf explains.

For nearly a decade, the center has run the Malden Summer Literacy Enrichment Program, which helps severely impaired young readers. A partnership between the City of Malden and the Tufts center, this four-week reading intervention program includes enrichment based on RAVE-O that is designed to improve literacy and language. Results have been very positive, Wolf notes, with some children who were in danger of being retained able to go onto the next grade.

While the summer program aims to help local kids, it also opens its doors to teachers from outside Boston and provides them with an opportunity to learn RAVE-O techniques.

"The most important goal is to help the kids," Wolf emphasizes. "The second is to train teachers in new methods," she says, adding that she hopes to "harness the beautiful idealism of teachers and tutors and show them how these new methods give them toolboxes they never would have had before."

As the newly appointed John DiBiaggio Chair in Citizenship and Public Service—a position sponsored by Tisch College—Wolf now has added support for her work in the community.

"Having this chair will promote the concept of citizenship, public service and scholarship as being intrinsically interwoven and that will be a wonderful thing," Wolf says. "It's what Tufts does so beautifully."

While Wolf's work at Tufts supports local communities, her efforts extend to other areas as well. In Arizona, Wolf and colleagues such as Dr. Gil Noam of Harvard Medical School recently helped establish after-school programs at several elementary schools to help students, many of whom were learning English as a second language, deal with the emotional repercussions of dyslexia.

"Dyslexia is not a sickness, but a different arrangement of the brain's circuits. In pre-literate times, people with dyslexia were the heroes, the builders. In contemporary times, the child who cannot read feels like they are totally different than the rest of the world," Wolf says. "Our job is to rescue the original child," she adds, noting that identifying dyslexia early can help ward off childhood depression. The most important goal, she explains, is to "preserve children's belief in themselves, so they can go on to contribute their many gifts to society."

Wolf's practical experience in creating community programs informs her classroom teaching. She brands herself as "a teacher infused with the latest research" and says that she and her colleagues "are researchers who teach with a vengeance."

According to Wolf, the introductory child development course that she's taught for the past 20 years is an opportunity to pass on a wealth of knowledge to more than 100 students each semester. She hopes to give her students a better understanding of children and encourage them to "participate in the formation of the next generation." Teaching, Wolf explains, is a "vehicle to help change happen."

Wolf, whose book about the brain and reading will be published in 1997, remains excited about her teaching and research – and the fact that she knows her work is far from done.

"I think we have made great inroads in diagnosis…And in our new interventions, we are in the first stages of learning how to simulate the brain when it reads a word," she says. "But we are nowhere close enough to being able to say [our work] helps all children to the degree we wish. We need to work more on that."

And that's exactly what Wolf plans to do.

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Profile written by Michaelann Millrood, Class of 2006

Photos by Tufts University Photo

This story originally ran on Oct. 16, 2006.