By Susan Riddell
Charlotte Webb, a 5th-grade teacher at East End Elementary School (Middlesboro Independent) has a student who started the academic year testing at a kindergarten reading level.
“When he tried to read he just repeated the word after I said it with the exception of a few sight words. When it came to written work, he couldn’t do it,” said Webb, who is in her 29th year of teaching at East End Elementary and 33rd overall. “We just took the winter MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) Test, and he scored in the middle of a 2nd-grade reading level. He is very confident, and where he was always looking at me to tell him the word, he is now decoding and reading fluently.
“He is completing his written work with 90 percent accuracy. He is improving with each passing day and is a different child. In the end I have to wonder if this would have happened had he not been exposed to the programs he has over the last year.”
Those programs include reading-intensive initiatives such as the Academy.
Funded largely by the Elgin Foundation, the Academy meets after school four days a week with reading instruction and other learning activities for students. Once the first hour is over, students get to choose an activity for the second hour like crafts, band, drama, fitness or garden club.
Virginia Martin is the director of extended school services for Middlesboro Independent. She said Elgin Foundation’s funding of the Academy came at the perfect time.
“With budget cuts in our state, our district needed the additional resources,” Martin said. “The staff and community of the Middlesboro Independent school district are fortunate to be a part of Elgin Foundation’s generosity and willingness to help improve our children’s lives so that they may become productive and successful citizens.”
Martin said Elgin representatives approached principals in November 2009 regarding an after-school reading program. Elgin also contacted neighboring Pineville Independent and other nearby districts.
“The foundation wanted to pilot schools that could provide enough interest from parents for their children to stay after school for approximately two hours of intense reading instruction,” Martin said. “The primary and intermediate schools were able to provide the numbers of students and teaching staff to implement an after-school program and thus the after-school Academy was born.
“The program provided a direct instructional approach to reading,” Martin added. “Teachers were provided with materials and onsite one-on-one coaching, modeling and continuous feedback to help in the teachers’ techniques, strategies and (assistance) in the implementation of the program.”
The Academy stayed open in the summer of 2010, and Middlesboro Independent can continue using reading materials provided by the Elgin Foundation for five years. Webb said the main curriculum is a direct instruction program called Series Launchers.
“The purpose of Series Launchers is to improve reading while helping them build confidence and become independent readers,” Webb said. “Most struggling readers don’t choose to read chapter books, and those who do usually don’t finish them for various reasons. With this program they are taught decoding, vocabulary words and expressions to help enlarge their reading and speaking vocabulary. Through guided reading we read, discuss and analyze each chapter. When the students complete the book, they will receive their own copy of the next book in the series as a gift. For some, it will be the only books they own.
“It’s hard to believe that children don’t own books, but in reality many do not,” Webb added. “In December we missed quite a few days of school due to weather and Christmas break. When we returned to school in January, one of my students who had been showing great improvement was really struggling. I asked if she had been practicing while we were off, and she told me she couldn’t because she didn’t have anything to read at home.”
She said opportunities like the Academy are vital because reading is fundamental to learning.
“It has always been my belief that reading is the most important part of a child’s academic career,” Webb said. “If they can read well the opportunities are endless. The children in our community are as capable and as full of potential as any child anywhere in the country. Circumstances sometimes make this harder for them and that is where schools and community must help.
“As a teacher it is my responsibility to do everything I can to help them reach their fullest potential,” Webb added. “During the regular school day we must teach many subjects to a wide variety of academic levels of students in each classroom. So, the individual instruction is very limited. The Academy has allowed us to work with smaller groups of struggling readers and really be able to address their needs. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for me when I was able to work with the students in this setting.”
Virginia Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org, (606) 242-8800