LAFAYETTE— Third-grader Alexandra Roberts searched a page filled with words separated into boxes as she played vocabulary bingo with her tutor, Michelle Decou.

“What means to pretend? I pretended that I met Justin Bieber. Which word could I substitute for pretended?” asked Decou, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student who tutors Roberts as part of the College of Education’s Reading Center program.

“Imagined!” Roberts said and checked off the box.

In the past few weeks, Roberts has learned more than 50 new vocabulary words and enjoys reading.

Not bad for a student who nine weeks ago ranked reading low on the list of things she wanted to do or liked to do.

“She told me she’d rather take out the garbage than read when we started,” Decou said. “She absolutely hated it. Last session, she brought in two chapter books that she was excited about and she’s learned 54 new vocabulary words.”

Changing students’ negative attitudes toward reading is one of the goals of the tutoring program for struggling readers offered by the Reading Center, said Elizabeth Webre, reading coordinator for the College of Education.

The one-on-one tutoring program enables education majors to gain practical experience as part of a reading course.

“It really is a service,” Webre said. “It provides teaching experience our undergraduates need and provides tutoring to children. It’s a hands-on learning experience.”

The center’s efforts were boosted earlier this month by a Capital One donation of $10,000 and 100 books.

About 40 readers are tutored in the fall and spring semesters and as many as 80 readers attend in the summer. The clinic also provides graduate-level education majors the experience of performing a comprehensive evaluation of students’ reading skills.

The tutors meet with the young students weekly for 10, 90-minute tutoring sessions. The majority of students in the program are in the second grade through the fifth grade, but middle and high school students have also been helped through the program, Webre said.

Undergraduate education majors take the course prior to their full semester of student-teaching service.

In addition, to changing students’ attitudes about reading, tutors also help expand young readers’ vocabulary, improve their comprehension and teach strategies to help them become independent readers, Webre said.

The pre-service teachers also have their first parent-teacher conference experience at the end of their tutoring sessions to provide the parent information on their child’s progress and make recommendations of activities the parent can do to help the child’s progress, Webre said.

The pre-service teacher also will make recommendations to share with the child’s teacher, she added.

Elementary education senior Taylor Pons said her recommendation for her student: more library visits.

“I think it would help if he chose his own books,” said Pons, who will begin her full semester of student teaching in the fall.

Decou has a bachelor’s degree in speech education, but returned to college for middle school math and science certification.

“It opened my eyes to how to better mentor students in math or science who may be struggling with reading,” Decou said.

The aspiring teachers use tri-fold cardboard display boards to illustrate the reader’s progress by using the young students’ favorite things: sports, music, fashion, dolphins.

Colorful musical notes display the new vocabulary words Roberts has learned. Pons used basketballs to write the titles of the books her student has read during their sessions. Pons affixed a small basketball hoop to her board to reward her student with hoop time when he stays on task.

Roberts’ incentive: a puzzle of pop star Justin Bieber. The young girl earned pieces when she learned something new or read a book.

On Wednesday, during their last session together, Bieber smiled back from the center of her progress board. Only a few pieces were missing. Just enough for her to earn in her final session with Decou.