U.Va. Mother-Daughter Alumnae Team-Teach in Curry School's Reading Clinic

Virginia Coffee and Elizabeth "Liza" Taylor sit at a table together smiling

Virginia Coffee and Elizabeth "Liza" Taylor

August 3, 2011 — Every July, the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education hosts children taking part in the McGuffey Reading Center's clinic.

This summer, nearly 50 youngsters participated in the clinic, working one-on-one and in small groups with veteran teachers and graduate students to hone their reading skills. Among the corps of teachers and assistants was a mother-and-daughter duo, Virginia Coffee of Charlottesville and Elizabeth "Liza" Taylor of Henrico. Both are graduates of Curry's teacher education program, each receiving two degrees from the school. But the similarities do not end there.

Upon completing her initial teaching degree from Curry, Coffee taught elementary school in Madison County for a couple of years before taking time off when Taylor was born. When she returned to the classroom after Taylor was a teenager, Coffee realized how critical it was for her to receive more training in the area of literacy.

"When a young child knows how to read, all of the other content areas – science, social studies, even mathematics – are opened up to them," Coffee said. "It is critical that teachers know well how to teach early reading concepts."

In 1996, Coffee completed her second degree at Curry, a master of education in reading, and returned to the classroom. Five years ago, she took a position as a reading interventionist for Albemarle County Public Schools.

Her daughter, Liza Taylor, graduated from U.Va. in 2008 with a teaching degree from Curry. She then began teaching kindergarten in Henrico County, soon learning the same lesson her mother had many years before.

"I knew that I needed supplemental training in early literacy," Taylor said.

Following again in her mother's footsteps, Taylor returned to Curry to pursue an education specialist degree in reading education.

The program requires that she participate in a clinical experience, applying what she has been taught in the classroom to working with young students. Taylor chose to return to Charlottesville and participate in last month's McGuffey Summer Reading Program, a three-week tutoring clinic.

There, children are assessed and then work either one-on-one or in small groups with tutors to build oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, phonics, spelling, vocabulary and writing.

Coffee has participated as both an instructor and a teaching assistant with the summer clinic several times and has stayed in close contact with a professor in the reading program, LaTisha Hayes, who is responsible for coordinating and supervising students during the McGuffey summer clinic.

Coffee was excited to learn that her daughter would be joining her at the clinic this summer.

"I know how Professor Hayes is able to impart the knowledge she has of reading education in a way that makes it attainable for her students," Coffee said. "She has rigorous expectations, but supports her students in the ways they need to meet those expectations."

Taylor agreed that her experience in this summer's clinic has prepared her well.

"I feel more independent," she said. "This summer has been thought-provoking and has made me more prepared to do reading intervention in my classroom."

Taylor tutored 7-year-olds, while her mother participated in a pilot program for 3- and 4-year-olds. Though they did not work in the same classroom, they often discussed the curriculum and techniques they were using.

"Being a witness to a child's 'ah-ha' moment with any learning is deeply gratifying," Coffee said. "However, reading is often the gateway to enabling us to become 'forever learners,' and when I can help facilitate that I'm satisfied."

"So much of anyone's access to the world today is dependent on their ability to read competently," Taylor said. "To help a child with that ability helps with their later success in life. And I love being a part of that."

"Liza often shares with me her ideas or questions, and I serve as a sounding board for her. In a way, Professor Hayes does that for me and I, in turn, can do this for Liza," Coffee said.

With her permanent residence still in Henrico County, Taylor, who expects to complete her second degree from the Curry School in December, stayed with her parents this summer.

"We have been accused of talking too much shop while at home," Taylor said, laughing. "But as far as mentors go, my mom knows her stuff."

Marcia Invernizzi, Henderson Professor of Education and director of the McGuffey Reading Center, said of the mother-daughter duo, "We are so fortunate to have maintained such invigorating partnerships with lifelong, talented educators like Virginia Coffey. She and other expert reading specialists come back to teach with us summer after summer because they know what a difference the McGuffey clinic makes. It's particularly inspiring to see Virginia's passion for teaching being passed on to the next generation. Who knows, maybe she and Liza will be teaching side-by-side next year."

— By Audrey Breen

Media Contact

Audrey Breen

School of Education and Human Development