Six women from different backgrounds met throughout July at Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland with one goal in mind: to finish the clinical component required to be certified as a literacy specialist in Maine.

Those who were already classroom teachers taught at Title I schools, which means they have a high percentage of children from low-income families. In Maine, 87.6 percent of students are enrolled in Title I schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The teachers, such as Jenna Zemrak, who teaches fourth grade at Belgrade Central School, plan to take what they learned back to their schools.

Others, such as Jenn Veilleux, 40, plan to use the new skills to start a new career. Veilleux, who was previously a classroom teacher, is starting a job soon as a literacy interventionist in Augusta at Lincoln Elementary School.

“It’s everything,” Veilleux said at the middle school on their last day of the clinical, Thursday. “It impacts every other area.”

The NCES provides data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is also known as the “nation’s report card.” According to Maine’s profile, its average reading score results for fourth-graders haven’t changed much since 1998.

In 2015, 29 percent of fourth-graders in Maine had below basic reading score results, up one point from 1998. Nationally, 32 percent of fourth-graders had below basic reading score results.

The one-month program is part of Thomas College’s master’s program for literacy education. However, participants can enroll in the clinical even if not in the master’s program. This is the first year of the clinical component, which is replacing the more research-based capstone course. The clinical is a hands-on class where the students work with students who need help with reading or writing, as well as reflect on different teaching methods and read research-backed texts.

Regional School Unit 18 partnered with Thomas College and let the participants use the space at the middle school, where they were able to work with children from kindergarten to fifth grade who are in summer school. Each of the women worked with four children and spent half an hour with them one-on-one every day.

Michelle Harrington worked with a kindergarten student who didn’t understand that individual letters made up words. Harrington is a certified reading recovery and Title I teacher at Chelsea Elementary School in Regional School Unit 12.

“I felt that a literacy master’s was more … meaningful for myself,” she said.

Working one-on-one with the children was a departure from the norm for most of the students, who teach in classrooms where there isn’t enough time to give that individual attention.

“It’s exciting,” said Kathy Burkhart who teaches fifth grade at Benton Elementary School. “And overwhelming, but exciting.”

Amanda Pingree, who plans to work as a literacy coach at Union Elementary, and Jill MacKenzie, a first-grade teacher at Belgrade Central, round out the class.

After the students worked with the children, they would have time to reflect both by themselves and with their peers about how well the strategies they chose worked and what they could do the next time.

“Reflecting … makes for more prepared teachers who can give more precise instructions to students,” said Todd Martin, an adjunct at Thomas College who taught the clinical and also teaches four other courses in the program throughout the year. The students also videotaped themselves, and Martin challenged them to continue doing that when they go back to work.