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A push in the right direction

Ohanian Comment: Here's the unexamined repetetition of press releases . . . . See if you can get through the first paragraph without muttering--or shouting--at least three expletives. Note to the reporter--and the superintendent's wife--doing DIBELS with a Palm Pilot doesn't make it any better.

Teachers at Prairie Home School should go read the Reading First application, carefully studying the promises made. Teachers in Reading First schools across the country should do the same thing.

By Kristy Flick

The No Child Left Behind Act signed into law by President Bush in January 2002 established Reading First as a new, high-quality reading program for students of America. The program builds on the findings of years of scientific research compiled by the National Reading Panel. Reading First ensures that more children receive effective reading instruction in the early grades. Funds are dedicated to help local school districts eliminate the reading deficit by establishing high-quality comprehensive reading instruction to children in grades Kindergarten through third.

School districts are awarded these grants through a competitive process with funds providing training to teachers in the critical areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Districts may reserve up to 20 percent of the grant money for professional development, technical assistance and planning and administrative and reporting activities.

Prairie Home School is one of nearly sixty Missouri school districts so far to receive part of the funding - in a $300,000 grant - to be used over a 3-year period. Grants are awarded to schools where reading test scores are low and a district does not have the financial means to buy such learning tools.

Georgia Davis, volunteer with the district and wife of superintendent Larry Davis, initially wrote the grant that was awarded to the district at the beginning of this school year.

Jill Dunlap, reading coach for the Prairie Home district, is thrilled with the program. “I am happy to be a part of this program,” she said. “I have seen such progress just from the beginning of this school year.”

The goal for grades Kindergarten through third is for each child to be on their reading level by the end of the school year.

To achieve this goal, Prairie Home was able to use the funds to purchase a Smart Board for each classroom. An interactive tool, the board projects images from a computer onto a white board mounted in the classroom. The core reading program, published by Houghton-Mifflin, provides grade-level books along with activities, computer software and other learning tools.

Each classroom was also able to buy a new computer for student use as well as $1,000 worth of books to supplement the program. Each teacher was also given a palm pilot with which to do student assessments.

“As soon as the information is put in (the palm pilot),” explained Dunlap, “it is beamed off to Oregon. The teachers have instant access and know what level their student is on at all times.”

Dunlap, who was hired through the grant money, provides all training and workshops for the teachers involved. Besides summer workshops, extensive training is also provided to the teachers on a weekly basis.

“It's a school-wide effort,” said Dunlap, who hopes the program will be provided for fourth through sixth grades in order to follow the children's progress.

Second grade teacher Jessi Vanderfeltz said the program has “given teachers and students the materials needed for student achievement.”

Kindergarten teacher Karen Brickner is also pleased with the program and said she is amazed at the growth she has seen in her students' reading level since last year.

Shannon Blumenthal, first grade teacher, enjoys the program as well. “I like it because it zeroes in on specific problems each child is having,” she said.

Sarah Stidham, third grade teacher, agreed the program is “wonderful,” saying, “The teacher assessment tools are great and help keep track of a student's progress along with monitoring exactly where they are for their reading level.”

Dunlap, who has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction, commented, “This program is great! It puts learning to read in the right order. Our goal is to catch the students before a learning gap develops.”

She added, “This is definitely a push in the right direction for Prairie Home.”

— Kristy Flick
Boonville Daily News


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