08/25/04 — Schools to put greater focus on reading

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Schools to put greater focus on reading

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on August 25, 2004 2:00 PM

In Rose Hinnant's first-grade class at Carver Heights Elementary, students are learning to read at their own pace.

For her pupils, that means first learning to rhyme, then moving to sounding out one-syllable words, and finally, on to reading books.

The strategies may not sound radically new, but the technology being used this year with them is.

Both Carver Heights Elementary and School Street Elementary schools are participating in a $1.25 million "Reading First" grant. The federal grant, which allots $250,000 to each school for five years, covers materials, supplies and pays for a reading coach. It is for kindergarten through third grade.

"It's set up to help our students read at grade level by the end of grade three," said Beverly Woodley, principal of Carver Heights. She says she expects the program to help raise student test scores on the state end-of-grade tests, as well as help the school make federal standards.

The reading grant fits into the larger initiative for the county school system, called "Wayne Reads, Wayne Succeeds," focusing on reading in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The reading program requires students to work in a 90-minute reading block each day. They spend their time doing a number of activities, from group work to individual reading.

The second part of the equation is technology. During the year, teachers will use handheld computer "Palm Pilots" to monitor the students' reading success and level. The technology will allow teachers to link to a computer through the school system's central office and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to assess each student's progress.

"We're hoping this will help find children so they don't fall through the cracks," said Christy Straughan, reading coach at School Street. The school's principal, Dan McPhail, called the grant "another strategy to give teachers more resources and tools to propel students forward."

Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of elementary education for Wayne County public schools, said the two schools are expected to become leaders in reading instruction. Teachers are excited about using the program, she said.

Although they have not used the Palm Pilots yet, second-grade teacher Minnie Williamson anticipates the benefits of using the tool.

"I think it will make assessments easier for teachers, save time and replace unnecessary paperwork," she said.

The "Reading First" grants were based on state end-of-grade scores from the schools from previous years. Because both schools have since made federal standards for the 2003-2004 school year, they would not be eligible if they applied for the grant now.

For this reason, McPhail said, he feels fortunate School Street School was able to take advantage of the grant.

"We recognize that reading has been our nemesis in reaching our goal of 90 percent plus of our students reading on or above grade level," he said. "School Street School became the first school in the central attendance area to achieve 'School of Distinction.' We believe our students can learn as readily as any students and they will reach or surpass our five-year goal of being designated a 'School of Excellence.'"