Skip to main content

East Arbor Charter Academy Teacher Learns the Science of Sounding Things Out

Note: This is one in a series recognizing winners of the 2020-21 NHA Excellence Awards, a program that honors educators, deans, and administrative teams across our network.

Something as simple as how we understand sounds is inherently intrinsic, but not necessarily taught in school. First grade teacher Tami Gieske is helping East Arbor scholars understand the process after becoming curious about it herself.
 teacher with students
Tami Gieske has taught at East Arbor Charter Academy since it opened in 2011.

While school was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic she came across a Facebook group Science of Reading-What I Should Have Learned in College. There, she learned about the science of reading and phonemic awareness and passes on that knowledge to students.
“I have learned so much by looking back and thinking, ‘Well, I didn't realize that.’ Certain letters make certain sounds based on the letter that’s before or after it,” she said. “I had never really thought through that before. I’m learning even more about how our brain works when we’re learning to read and how best to teach these littles how to read. Last year, I really worked hard to add that as part of my teaching to make sure that the kids were getting a really strong phonemic base.”

Gieske said the first thing is to understand that the sounds are represented by these letters. She said the letters don’t make the sound, but there’s a sound that is attached to different letters.

“You can get the ‘S’ sound from several different letters,” she said. "So, learning how to be able to decode them." Or sound them out and learning how to figure out how many syllables there are in a word. Or what’s the onset, which is the beginning, or the rhyme, which is the ending of the word and being able to change those out. So, if you have ‘cat,’ asking them to make it ‘mat’. How are they going to do that type of thing?

 East Arbor teacher Tami Gieske reading to studentsTami Gieske was named an Excellence in Teaching winner as part of the 2020-21 NHA Excellence Awards.

Gieske is the last founding teacher at East Arbor, which opened in 2011. Teaching became sort of a second career for her; she stayed at home with her kids and once they were in school, she was able to start teaching.
She was recognized as an Excellence in Teacher winner of the 2020-21 National Heritage Academies Excellence Awards, and was honored with the help of her family.
“They surprised me at morning assembly on that Monday and my four sons and my husband all came to surprise me and that was amazing,” she said. “It was so surreal.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Gieske!
About East Arbor Charter Academy
East Arbor Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

Visit East Arbor Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.