by Dennis Dalman
A multi-talented Sartell High School graduate, Meg Mechelke, is being honored by the University of Iowa for her pioneering research and work in teaching reading skills.
Reading literacy is in the news a lot these days because test scores since the pandemic in 2020, there have been declines in reading skills among many young students. Mechelke’s type of teaching methods and those doing similar research/teaching may have a significant effect on improving those skills for students far and wide.
Mechelke is studying English, creative writing and theater arts, with a minor in Spanish, at the University of Iowa. She is also a published and produced playwright, who has a long-time passion for theater.
She is the daughter of Kathryn and Mark Michelke of Sartell. Both parents are also graduates of the University of Iowa where both earned doctorate degrees. Her father is a chemistry professor at St. Cloud State University; her mother is a family-practice doctor at CentraCare’s Sartell clinic.
Meg Mechelke is among those honored in the annual UofI’s annual “Dare to Discover” program. The students and graduate students all exemplify innovative, highly creative research in fields that include arts, astronomy, education, public health and much more.
“I believe Meg is having a big impact on the future of literacy instruction,” said Sean Thomson, communications specialist at the Iowa Reading Research Center. “Meg’s work is directly impacting the teaching of children as they are able to learn reading skills in this new way.”
In high school, Mechelke enjoyed volunteer work and earned varsity letters in academics for the fall play and for participation in Knowledge Bowl. She was also one of three finalists for the nationwide National Merit Scholarship program.
In her research, Mechelke worked with other experts to develop a “bridge” between creative writing and reading research.
Mechelke described her work, which is called “Varied Practice Reading.” It is a reading literacy method first developed by Deborah Reed, the director of the Iowa Reading Research Center. Mechelke has worked closely with Reed and others at the Center.
“Students in grades 1-8 read four different passages one time each,” she said. “Each of the four passages contains around 85 percent of the same words and all the passages meet specific reading level and length requirements. Our middle grades’ passages also include either science- or social studies-based content. As the lead student writer on the program, I work with a team of undergraduate writers to develop these passages and to ensure they are meeting the needs of the students who encounter them.”
Mechelke said most people would be surprised about how many American adults are not proficient in reading and writing skills.
“Those skills are essential to everyday tasks, from job hunting to reading the newspaper to following a recipe,” she noted. “With Varied Practice Reading, young students are better equipped to learn reading fluency and other literacy skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.”
Mechelke added her research and practice of Varied Practice Reading have strengthened her own writing skills and her ability to communicate effectively, to integrate feedback from others and to navigate complex topics.
“I plan to pursue a career in theater after graduation – ideally in new-play development,” she said. “I also have a strong educational theater background, which intersects a great deal with my work at the Iowa Reading Research Center, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that too lies somewhere in my future.”