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Sieve honored with 2008 Celebrate Literacy Award

WORTHINGTON -- After 37 years of teaching first-graders reading skills and quietly working behind the scenes with the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council, Prairie Elementary teacher Yvonne Sieve has received the 2008 Celebrate Literacy Award from the Minnesota Reading Association.

"I teach first grade, so I teach all the basic skills of reading -- phonics, children's literature, a love of books, anything related to reading and writing, too, because when you write, you read," Sieve said. "I feel students have to have the basics in order to succeed in school."

She received the award for her significant contributions in the area of reading instruction, demonstrating exemplary service, practice and accomplishments. Sieve was nominated for the award by Cindy Whaley, professor of language arts at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, and president of the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council.

Sieve attended high school at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Wilmont, graduating in 1968. She received her teaching degree at Southwest State University, Marshall, and taught first grade and Title 1 from 1971 to 1975 in Brewster.

Since 1975, she has taught first-graders in Worthington reading skills. Her students begin the year knowing the alphabet and just a few words, and by the end of the school year can read entire books by themselves. In Sieve's classroom, it all starts with playing alphabet games, sound bingo and learning from easy readers.

Though times have changed in other ways since 1971, first-graders haven't changed much.

"They're still eager to learn. They love school, usually. They want to be in school, and they want to learn how to read," Sieve said.

There are more students who speak English as a second language, but generally, they do well in first grade, where their native English-speaking peers' reading and writing skills are still developing, too, Sieve said.

When students have trouble reading, Sieve tells them they can do it -- to just keep trying -- and that she and the rest of the Prairie staff will help them learn.

Students take more reading tests now than they did when Sieve started teaching in 1971, but those exams help her monitor children's progress. First-graders are usually tested on reading sentences and finding words, but they also take Accelerated Reader comprehension tests on the books they read.

Sieve has worked for literacy outside the classroom, too, having served as historian on the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council since 1993. She secures speakers for the Council's spring and fall conferences.

She also organized nine one-day summer reading workshops in Worthington, attended by about 50 educators each. Sieve attends other reading-related conferences in the region, state and nation, and even went to one in Australia.

For 20 years, Sieve served as newsletter editor for the Minnesota Kindergarten Association, publishing 80 issues for the organization that unites educators working with young students.

In spring 2005, the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council gave Sieve its Celebrate Literacy Award.