81 year old WW II Marine Vet of Iwo Jima
tutors struggling kids using Alpha-phonics

By CELlA DEWOODY Times Staff ~ celiad@commpub.com

Bert Clayton of Harrison is a man of wide experience and many talents.

He's a survivor, which he proved as a young Marine when he walked away from World War II's Battle of Iwo Jima in one piece. He's a man with a sharp mind and great focus, which served him well in his 30-year career as an air traffic controller.

He's a born teacher; a skill he used during his years with the Federal Aviation Administration, when he also served as an instructor. He brought those skills home to Harrison, where after his retirement, he tutored students of all ages in reading and math at his home, as well as teaching reading skills at North Arkansas College for two years.

He's a manager and a journalist, who this year is finishing up a four-year stint as secretary, treasurer, editor and columnist for the Spearhead News, the official publication of the 5th Marine Division Association. He's a devoted father of two daughters, Cristine Adams, a library director in Hobbs, N.M., and Cindy Keeter of Harrison, who is retired from Mass Merchandising and now works for AHEC-NW.

He's a loving grandfather who is proud of all four of his grandchildren, but who takes special pride in the fact that Cindy's two sons are both Marine Corps Reservists and veterans of the Iraqi war.

He's a loving husband. His first wife, Lorraine, died in 2000. He married Maxine in 2003, and said he has been blessed to have had two wonderful wives.

Although he hung up his teaching spurs in 1996, Clayton is about to get back in the saddle again, and he's so excited about it he can't stop grinning when he talks about it.

He's passionate about helping people learn to read, and to become better readers, so next month, he's going to start a new class in "systematic phonics" for seven to 10-year olds, to help them improve their reading skills. And he's volunteering his time for the classes, which will be held at the Retired Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP) building in Harrison. The only cost to the students will be for their "Alpha-Phonics" workbook, by Samuel L. Blumenfeld.

"Blumenfeld came up with a brilliant program," Bert said.

Clayton said when he first started tutoring kids in reading, he tried out four or five different phonics programs.

"I accidentally stumbled on this one, and threw the rest away," he said.

The 81-year-old tutor is convinced that a good grasp of phonics is the key to being a good reader.

Phonics is a method of teaching beginning readers to read and pronounce words by learning the sound of letters, letter groups and syllables. After learning the various sounds, students are then able to begin to read by "sounding out" words.

Clayton uses his own childhood experience as an example of how well the phonics systems works.

"My first-grade teacher taught our class of 35-40 students using only the blackboard, chalk and a simple primer," he said. Halfway through second grade, I was reading, the Kewanee" Star Courier newspaper, sounding out the words with relative ease." He relates an experience he had teaching an eight-year-old boy to read with the Alpha-Phonics workbook during his stint as a tutor in the 1990s.

Clayton said his young student had worked his way through the program and was nearing the end of the workbook. He had mastered "sounding out" words of one syllable, then two, but when he got near the end of the book and saw the multisyllabic words, he got a little overwhelmed. . His tutor told him, "Don't let these big words throw you."

Clayton said he asked the boy, "When you go to McDonald's and order a Big Mac, do you cram the whole thing into your mouth like this?"

The former Marine acts out a comical pantomime of a wide-eyed child stuffing a huge burger into his mouth. "The boy said, 'No.'''

"Well, then, how do you eat it?"

"I take one bite at a time."

"That's the same way you read these words - one bite at a time."

Clayton said when they got to the section in the workbook that has four and five syllable words, his young student waded right in. . "He read the first one - he read the second one - he read the third one - then when he looked at the fourth, his eyes got real big," Clayton said. "I told him, 'One bite at a time!'

"He stared at the page for a minute, then he sounded out the word, and read 'PHILADELPHIA!'"

The tutor said his student was .thrilled, and so was he.

"I'm sure my eyes got a little misty," he said. "That's what it's all about."

If you ask Bert Clayton why a man of his age, in his retirement years, would give up his time to tutor kids instead of playing golf or fishing, he'll tell you, "I find it more fun, more rewarding, more satisfying, than trying to put a golf ball in a hole."

He's really looking forward to his new class starting in mid to late July or early August.

The course will be two nights a week, two hours per class, for three weeks.

"This first class, I'd would like to make for ages seven to nine or 10," he said. He can handle up to eight in a class.

Anyone interested in signing their child up for the reading class should call Bert Clayton at 741-8940.

He'll send out advance literature, and said he. will probably have a Saturday session for parents, a brief introductory preview and explanation of his method.

"I'll explain what 1 expect from the children, and what I expect from the parents in support of the children," he said. Parents will be asked. to help children review what they've learned in each class.

"I can't wait," Clayton said, eyes twinkling. "I get so stirred up. Thatís what keeps me enthusiastic and mentally sharp."

Becky Hartman of Harrison said her son Joe took Clayton's reading class at NorthArk years ago. Joe had been diagnosed with visual memory problems and had been in special classes for a while, but after the family moved to Boone County when he was in the seventh grade, he was determined to try to move back into regular classes. His mom read about Clayton's class in the paper, and told Joe she wanted him to go. The teenager didn't want to take the class because he was afraid the others in the class would make fun of him because of his reading problems.

"I had to bribe him with a hamburger at Dairy Queen to get him to go," Hartman said.

After the first class, instead of immediately asking for his hamburger, Joe chattered away to his mom about things he'd learned. He stuck with it and finished Clayton's course, which his mother said opened a lot of doors for him.

"Joe graduated from high school, and earned an AA degree at NAC in machine shop, and loved it," she said. "Now he's very successful And Joe has a tremendous amount of respect for Bert." The Hartmans are a devout Catholic family. In the Catholic service, the gifts of water and wine and the collection basket are brought up to the alter by those specially chosen for the honor.

For Joe Hartman's wedding, he asked his teacher Bert and his wife to carry up the gifts.

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