New emphasis on Early Reading Learning in Pocahontas Schools
Christina Smith, the Coordinator for Teaching and Learning at the Pocahontas County schools is excited about the County School’s efforts to bring their students up to grade level in reading. She talks about this and about why it is so important to start this in the early grades.
“There’s a national Campaign for Grade Level Reading which stresses the importance of reading on grade level by third grade, because students who do not read proficiently or (are) off grade level by third grade are much more likely to drop out of High School” said Christina. “So the Campaign for Grade Level Reading is actually to help kids graduate.”
Christina explains the components of the Campaign.
“There are 4 different components of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading” said Christina. “One is School Readiness; Third Grade Reading Proficiency; Early Childhood Attendance; and Summer or Extended Day Learning Opportunities. In Pocahontas County schools, because we are part of this national campaign, we received a $19,461 grant to help promote those things. “
Christina explained that for the School Readiness component, they will be reinstituting the Health Fair in the spring where parents can get their children the screenings and immunizations required to enter school, which will prevent delays in enrolling their child into school. They will also pass out literature entitled “A Families Guide to School Readiness” through the Hospital, Libraries and the Family Resource Network. This will outline the criteria for entering school. The Guide will also provide tips about how parents can help prepare their child to start school, such as reading with their child 20 minutes each night, and having conversations with their child over dinner to help them develop the social skills needed to converse in a classroom.
Christina talks about another helpful program to prepare your child to enter school.
“Also, our Pocahontas County Free Libraries have a wonderful program called ‘Imagination Library’” said Christina. “So a part of the Campaign (for Grade Level Reading) is just to spread awareness that that resource is available. What it is is that any child from birth to 5 years old can get a free book in the mail to keep- has their name on it and everything. And that’s a free program. To be a part of Imagination Library you just go to the library. There is a card there you can just put your address on and verify you’re a Pocahontas County resident and they will ship those to you.”
Christina goes on to talk about the 2nd component of the Campaign – the Third Grade Reading Proficiency. The Schools will be giving students a test called “Stars” every 9 weeks. The results are analyzed and used to identify weaknesses and trends so that reading instruction can be improved. The Schools are also addressing this component by providing professional training for teachers as Christina explains.
“When we had our Continuing Education Day on October 19th, we actually had a presentation for grades Kindergarten through 2nd grade teachers on early literacy strategies” said Christina. “So it provided them with some new things they can do in their classroom and gave them an opportunity to get together and talk about the challenges they are facing in their classroom. We also do grade level collaboration where teachers come together by grade level from across the County to take a look at our benchmark data and our assessments to make some plans based on that.”
Christina says that because of the funds provided by this grant, they are able to provide additional funds to both the West Virginia Reading Council and to the County program called “Read Aloud West Virginia” which sponsors writing contests, and Christina would like them to add a program called “Snuggle and Read” where parents or grandparents bring preschoolers in and read with the kids. The kids would take a book home with them and also make a blanket.
Christina then talked about the third component of the Campaign – Early Childhood Attendance.
“A lot of things we go are retroactive after a child has been absent” Christina said. “So we are trying to be a bit more proactive. One of the things we’ve begun doing is we’ve had an attendance initiative where children who are in Preschool through 2nd Grade receive prizes for good attendance. Something a little bit more immediate is developmentally appropriate for Preschool through 2nd grade. So once they’ve been to school for 7 days in a row, they can pick a prize out of a treasure chest. Waiting an entire 9 weeks to get a certificate is a hard thing to do for them.”
The 4th and final component of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading is Summer or Extended Day Learning Opportunities. Christina explains the reason this is important.
“During the summer, children often regress, especially children from low income families” Christina said. “What a child would have gained in 2 months of school, they lose over the summer. So they actually come back to school; behind their peers.”
As part of the Campaign, there is a summer program at Marlinton Elementary School called ‘Energy Express’ for students in grades K through 5 to work on their reading skills. Middle and High School students can also come in to assist the Elementary school kids by reading with them. As an added benefit, these older kids will also improve their reading and receive a free meal. This program used to be offered at Green Bank School but funding became unavailable. Now, with the new grant funds, it might be offered again at Green Bank this summer. The Schools are also considering implementing a new summer reading program for 3 to 6 year olds next year.