Focus on reading will boost student success, leaders say

Porter Elementary reading initiatives keep students on track

Reading is one of the Bibb County school district's main focuses. New approaches to instruction and intervention programs are being implemented to help struggling students. Reading tutors, partner and independent reading, and incentive programs ar
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Reading is one of the Bibb County school district's main focuses. New approaches to instruction and intervention programs are being implemented to help struggling students. Reading tutors, partner and independent reading, and incentive programs ar

Students across Bibb County are keeping their noses in the books.

Along with attendance and discipline, reading is one of the district’s main focuses. Educators hope their literacy initiatives will lead students, schools and the district to higher academic achievement and improved state scores.

Administrators are monitoring the effectiveness of their reading programs, and data show they’re having a positive effect so far, said Tanzy Kilcrease, the system’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. The goal is to have all students reading on grade level by third grade, and then to help them stay on track so they don’t fall behind.

Superintendent Curtis Jones “is really and truly engaged with ensuring our students have the literacy skills they need to be a success,” she said. “We’re broadening that approach, and we’re involving our community and all the stakeholders to try to help us with our efforts.”

Districtwide initiatives

The district assessed its practices and came up with a better approach for instruction time and methods, Kilcrease said. Officials check in with schools regularly to make sure they are meeting requirements, said Porter Elementary principal Cami Hamlin.

This year, all elementary schools added English language arts blocks to their schedule. Students in kindergarten through second grade get two hours of reading and writing lessons daily, and third- through fifth-graders get 90 minutes.

Teachers receive special training through reading specialists, intervention coaches and workshops, and components such as guided and independent reading and small group instruction have been implemented, she said. Porter Elementary students do individual, partner and buddy reading, in which fourth-graders are paired with first-graders, said first grade teacher Melinda Goggans.

A daily, 45-minute intervention and enrichment block is used to help advance students in their skills, Kilcrease said. Students get foundational reading assistance through System 44, which is in all third grades across the district and a few middle and high schools. The Read 180 program, in at least 16 schools, provides individualized instruction for third- through 12th-graders.

Volunteer tutors visit a handful of Bibb County elementary schools for the United Way’s Read United initiatives, Read2Succeed and the AARP Foundation Experience Corps program for adults 50 and older. Porter has five AARP Grant tutors, each person working four hours a week with small groups of students in kindergarten through third grade. About 30 students receive help throughout the year.

“Every kid comes in to school wanting to read. When they see their peers outpacing them, it’s very humbling,” Hamlin said. “The fact that there’s another adult that gets to hang out with them and help them with what they need to get past that hurdle, it really makes them feel good.”

Individual school initiatives

Several schools have an incentive program called Accelerated Reader. Students get points for books they read on their skill level and are rewarded if they meet their goals, Kilcrease said. Porter Elementary uses the AR program to encourage independent reading outside of school assignments, Hamlin said.

At the beginning of the year, students aimed to read 15 extra minutes daily. Now, they are trying for 30 minutes, and the goal will increase to 45 minutes and then an hour later this year.

“Research supports that volume of reading correlates to student achievement,” said Hamlin, who is in her first year as principal at Porter. Porter jumped 18 points to score 75.8 on the 2015-16 College and Career Ready Performance Index.

Students take an assessment for each book they read, receiving credit for word count and time and a Lexile system reading score. Every nine weeks, Porter celebrates students who meet their AR goals. On Thursday, younger students enjoyed milk and cookies while reading, and older students were invited to an “open mic” activity.

“I’m really big on intrinsic motivation. Really what kids want is attention, recognition and emotional connection with friends and adults, just getting to spend time with other people who have that passion,” she said.

In addition, the homeroom in each grade level that shows the most growth for the month gets the Lexile Leader Award. Students receive a Millionaire Award medal after they read a million words, and they work to earn the honor every year. Hamlin started the award when she was working at Springdale Elementary and brought it to Porter this year. It’s now in a few other Bibb schools too.

Porter has a high Spanish-speaking population, and 25 percent of students are learning English. These students are given other targets to work toward, such as learning sight words, letter identification and other precursors to reading.

Parent involvement and communication is key, and about 15 parents are learning English through special classes offered at Porter.