By KAITLYN NAPLES
Last year, about 90 percent of the 60 students in first grade were able to bring their reading abilities up to a first grade level, thanks to a pilot program of the Literacy Intervention program.
Plainville School District’s Director of Curriculum Linda Van Wagenen said the program is geared towards helping the students who are below their grade level in literacy enhance their skills so that they can catch up and be at the reading level they are supposed to be at by the time they reach third grade.
“The goal of this program is to get these students to their grade level within an 18 to 24 week period,” Van Wagenen said.
The pilot program proved to be successful last year, and because of a $30,000 Early Literacy grant from the Liberty Bank Foundation, the program can now continue for the next three years.
“Our mission for the foundation is to support preventative programs for low and moderate income residents,” Liberty Bank Executive Director Sue Murphy said.
This coming school year, thanks to the grant, Van Wagenen said the program will be able to expand to students in kindergarten and first grade. Students are tested in the first few weeks of the school year, she said, and then school officials are able to find out where students need extra help regarding literacy.
“We want all of our students reading at grade level by the time they leave third grade,” Van Wagenen said, adding the grant from the Liberty Bank Foundation allows the program to move along a little faster by allowing more students to participate. She said she hopes to be able to increase the reach of the program to between 100 and 120 students in three elementary schools.
The program uses the district’s literacy resource teachers, and does not require new positions. The literacy resource teachers are using books that are geared to the student’s reading skills. Then, Van Wagenen said the teachers will use a series of activities to allow the students to practice the skills they are learning. The students are also allowed to keep the books they use, so they can read at home to their families. Students are organized in groups of three or four for their literacy sessions.
Murphy said she has researched early literacy and said she has found students who are at a lower reading level than their peers haven’t had the opportunity to learn or practice at home. She added that these students who are unable to improve their reading skills may eventually drop out of school.
Van Wagenen added studies have shown that students who leave eighth grade not being at their grade level in literacy are more apt to drop out.
“We learn to read so we can read to learn,” Van Wagenen said, adding that as students get older, learning relies on reading.
Murphy said this is the first year of the Early Literacy Grant Program, which focuses on helping programs geared towards closing the achievement gaps. She said it is a three-year program because the foundation knows “you can’t just flip a switch” to improve test scores and reading levels. She said the bank plans to be involved in the programs it has supported. They measure the results and keep track of the program’s progress.
“Hopefully we will see some models (the districts that were awarded grants) are using that really work and help implement them into some other schools,” she said.
School Superintendent Jeffrey Kitching said the program wouldn’t be able to move forward without Liberty Bank, which has kept involved in the community.
The employees of Liberty Bank are provided with four paid days off that can be put towards volunteering, Liberty’s Murphy said. “We really believe in having our people involved in the community,” she added.
The Literacy Intervention program will begin at all three elementary schools within the first few weeks of this coming school year.