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Officials ponder state of Memphis schools; Hopeful teachers go about the task of teaching

"The House That Tony Lives In" by Anthony Lorenz, illus. John Sandford
According to the Scott Foresman Reading Street Curriculum Map, this story comes in Week 5 of Unit 6, and the letters to be learned are Yy, Qq, Kw.

Here is the opening from the press release announcing the launch of Reading Street:

CHICAGO, IL. MAY 2, 2006 -- Marking the first time an educational publisher has developed reading curriculum specifically aligned to federal requirements and incorporating a wide range of research-based learning strategies, Pearson Scott Foresman today unveiled Reading Street – an innovative pre-K-6 reading program at the International Reading Association’s annual convention

"Reading Street sets the gold standard on every level," said Paul McFall, president of Glenview-based Pearson Scott Foresman. "We̢۪re excited at its potential to help teachers educate a new nation of successful readers."

Reading Street is the first program tailored specifically to the requirements of Reading First, a nationwide mandate to enable all students to become successful early readers as created by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. . . .

Reading Street̢۪s contributing authors include: Dr. Connie Juel, professor of education, School of Education, Stanford University; Dr. P. David Pearson, professor and dean at the Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley; Dr. Ed Kame̢۪enui, prominent education researcher; Dr. Deborah Simmons, professor, Texas A&M University; Dr. Sharon Vaughn, professor, University of Texas; Dr. Donald Leu, professor and the John and Maria Neag Endowed Chair in Literacy and Technology at the University of Connecticut.; Dr. Candy Dawson Boyd, professor, Saint Mary̢۪s College of California̢۪s School of Education; and Dr. Jeanne Paratore, associate professor of education, Boston University̢۪s Department of Literacy and Language Development.

Here is a note from a Peducah, KY kindergarten teacher to parents: Kindergarten:

Begin working with your child on recognizing the letters and the sounds they make.

Please review of all letters covered. Your child need to know all of the letters and sounds to go to 1st grade.

We have covered all of the letters. We are now working on blends and diagraphs.

Although the program bills itself as using trade books, Amazon.com lists no book of this name--or anything else by this author. However the book, like many other Big Books, is available on E-Bay, where there seems to be quite a market of teachers selling Big Books.

Story #: 5. Unit: Building Our Homes. Grade: Kindergarten. Scott Foresman Reading Street Curriculum Maps

Vocabulary: architect, electricians, plumbers, painters, landscapers, movers

High Frequency Words: you, said, with, we, like, my, the, is, have, a, for, of, what, she, he, go, look, they

Genre: Fiction

Phonics: Decode Words

Comprehension Skill: Setting

Essential Question:
Who helps to build a house?

Essential Question:
What are the sounds in the word hat?
What word does /c/ /a/ /n/ say?

Essential Question:
What are the clues that tell us where the story takes place?

Story #: 5

Unit: Building Our Homes

Grade: Kindergarten

Scott Foresman Reading Street Curriculum Maps

NOTE: "What did you like about the story" and "What did you find interesting in the story?" are not considered "Essential Questions." Instead, kindergartners are supposed to be thinking about genre and sounds.

NOTE: You can see a list of the components in this package here.

By Zack McMillin

On the Tuesday morning before Mayor Willie Herenton gave an address to the City Council providing his analysis of problems at Memphis City Schools, they celebrated National Teacher and Teacher Assistant Day at Shannon Elementary -- the school where Herenton began his career.

On a day when council members grilled school officials about their operation, when the mayor talked of inefficiencies and bloated bureaucracy, Shannon principal Tisha White worked to keep morale high.
Shannon Elementary kindergartner George Dye searches the book basket in Melissa Harris' class Wednesday before the start of quiet reading time.

While the mayor was using Tuesday to declare, "So goes Memphis City Schools, so goes the city of Memphis itself," the teachers and staff working at Shannon were going about the task of trying to teach children in a proud but struggling community in Memphis known as Hyde Park.

For those at Shannon, working at the ground level, the mayor's declaration would ring just as true flipped around -- so goes the city of Memphis and its neighborhoods, so goes its schools.

As Memphis' top elected officials fussed and fumed and fulminated on Tuesday, there were constant references to their primary motivation: the children.

Back at Shannon, where nearly 90 percent of students are considered by the state as "economically disadvantaged," it wouldn't be hard for the cynic to see those in high positions as using the children as both shield and sword.

While much of the recent attention on schools has focused on high-level officials and politicians, it is the teachers who provide the closest view of what is happening at the ground level.

In the kindergarten class of teacher-of-the-year finalist Melissa Harris, the children are not props.

Aaliyah and George and Jaylen and 11 other little ones give their full attention to Harris.

"Good morning, helpers," she says, her voice radiating energy and command.

"Good morning, Mrs. Harris," they say, their reply a melody of eagerness and admiration.

Harris asks how they are doing, challenging them to use more sophisticated words.

"Montavious, do you have some descriptive words?"

"Terrific," is his proud reply.

The class delves into "Language Arts" time.

An assistant, Pamelon Nelson, guides a group through reading and word recognition.

"HAVE!" the children say, correctly.

Nelson flashes "THEY," pushing them to blend sounds.

Their quizzical "thuh ... aaaa" turns to a delighted "they!"

The kindergarten teachers at Shannon, including 36-year teaching veteran Vickie Bumpas, say they expect their children to leave for the summer capable of reading, which is far more than was expected when Bumpas was the second certified kindergarten teacher in the town of Lafollette, north of Knoxville. "Then, it was just strictly play," she said.

Now, Harris is direct. "It is time for work," she tells the kids.

The class' vocabulary words draw from the book "The House That Tony Lives In," and Harris deftly uses storytelling to drill words such as "electrician" and "architect" into her students.

"This is a very good story, and it helps us think about the places we live and the neighbors we have," Harris tells the children.

The Hyde Park neighborhood surrounding Shannon, as Bumpas puts it, "has needs just like any other."

And those needs do not vanish when the children go to school.

Third-grade teacher Charmaine Brewer talks about the child in her class who confided that the children involved in the Lester Street tragedy were cousins.

So Brewer has a class motto: "Whatever problems we have at home, we leave them outside the door, and we learn."

As the principal puts it: "When they walk through that door, you don't know what that child has seen. You come in there and say, 'I am going to teach fractions today,' but sometimes that's very hard to do."

White and her teachers demur when asked if they find it frustrating to hear criticism of schools from politicians. They focus on the gains they see, cling to their many positive stories.

Others are not so shy. Economist Richard Rothstein is a critic of education policy that ignores socio-economic conditions.

"The notion that schools alone can create equal achievement for children of different social backgrounds is not based on any research," Rothstein told NPR earlier this year. "[It assumes] that health doesn't matter, housing doesn't matter, that dysfunctional communities don't matter."

In Herenton's address, the former Shannon teacher, now in his 17th year as mayor, covered much terrain but made no mention of declining neighborhoods, single parents struggling in a difficult economy, teachers who increasingly are required to mix instruction with social work.

But on Wednesday, the doors opened at Shannon and the children streamed into the halls and looked to their teachers to help them acquire the skills a city desperately needs them to master.

Bumpas is relentlessly positive, and she keeps herself motivated with a simple guiding thought: "I don't care who you are, you love your kids and you want the best for them. Everybody wants more for their children than they had."

— Zack McMillin
Commercial Appeal


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