Raising Readers at Kathryn Senor
Post Independent Staff
NEW CASTLE ” The average height of the people attending Kathryn Senor Elementary School increased dramatically Friday morning.
“Look at all these grown-ups!” yelped a 3-foot-high student walking the school’s hallways amidst a sea of kids and adults.
Outside, the school’s small parking lot ” after all, elementary school students don’t drive ” was overflowing with vehicles. On Thursday and Friday, an estimated 200 parents took a few hours off from work or household duties to come to school and read with their children.
Friday marked the school’s 4th annual Raising Readers Parent Workshop. Designed by Success for All, a Maryland-based education foundation associated with Johns Hopkins University, Raising Readers is a nationwide reading curriculum that integrates teachers, kids and parents in the process of learning to read.
“OK, active listening now,” said Kristin Greenstreet to the kids and parents who attended her first-grade reading class Friday, in order to get their attention. Greenstreet is a school counselor, but because of Success for All and the training she and the rest of the educational staff received from the foundation, she also teaches reading. In fact, the entire student body breaks into reading classes that are based on each student’s ability ” and not necessarily based on what grade the child is in.
“This works out so well,” said principal Bill Zambelli, “because you don’t miss any kids. In a regular classroom, the top 5 percent and the low 5 percent wouldn’t receive the attention they needed. By doing it this way, and testing the kids each quarter, we know exactly where they are in their reading abilities.”
Greenstreet’s class just happened to be filled with all first-graders ” and it was clear Friday they were getting the hang of this reading thing.
“B-U-G ” BUG!” they shouted out in unison as Greenstreet pointed to a word pasted on an easel in front of the class.
“They have so much fun here,” said Sabrina Caceres, whose son Stephano sat next to her at a round table reading a book named “May I Borrow Your Ice Cream?” “I want to go back to school.”
“OK, who can tell me what they did to understand what they just read?” asked Greenstreet.
Arms shot up in the air everywhere.
“I re-read for fluency!” said Sarah Argueta.
“When I got stuck on a word, we looked at the words together,” said Stephano of him and mom Sabrina, his reading partner.
The annual Raising Readers workshop gives parents and children a morning at school to read together. It also educates parents in reading activities and techniques teachers are using at school.
One of those techniques is “tap and grab.” Together, first-grader Jessica and her dad Ben Waganman read through a list of words, tapping the paper and sounding out the letters in each word, then grabbing the word by saying it aloud together and making a fist.
“Cover up the e-d,” said Jessica to her dad when they sounded out the word “asked.”
“Active listening!” Greenstreet said to the class at the end of the exercise. “OK, let’s do the expert reader cheer.”
Together, Greenstreet and the kids called out “I am an expert reader! I am an expert reader! I am an expert reader!” while the parents sat in awe, smiling and laughing at the enthusiastic bunch.
“I get this all the time at home,” said Stephano’s mom Sabrina with a smile. “My son thinks he knows more than me. I tell him I went to school, too.”
Schools across the country are adopting the Success for All Foundation’s innovative learning programs.
For Kathryn Senor’s students, Raising Readers has significantly improved their reading skills since the program has been in place ” and principal Bill Zambelli has the data to prove it.
“Clearly, we’ve seen improvement with SFA,” Zambelli said. “Five years ago, our third-graders scored 56 percent proficient on the CSAP reading test. For the past two years, they’ve scored 77 and 78 percent.”
Other tests show vast improvement, too. The QRI test is based on results from the entire student body, including special needs students.
“In 2000, we were at 59 percent proficient,” he said. “Last year, we were at 81 percent.”
Numbers aside, the kids are clearly having fun learning to read with SFA jingles like “Think it in your head, Write it with your lead!” and cheers like “Master of the Word!”
At the end of the workshop, Greenstreet thanked the parents for coming to class.
“Your involvement is so crucial,” she said.
Later, Greenstreet talked about why the program has been so successful for Kathryn Senor. Much of it has to do with parent involvement. Parents are asked to read with their children 20 minutes a day, four days a week. Most parents do it, and for those who don’t or can’t, Greenstreet said the school finds a way that each student gets that one-on-one time.
“A lot of components in this program support parents,” she said. “We have teams that go out and coordinate fall home visits to all incoming first-grade students and their families. We personally go out and welcome them. And we have weekly morning meetings with parents. We don’t let students slip through the cracks.”
Barb Miller, the facilitator for the program, said the combination of kids learning from parents and parents learning from their kids makes for successful learning.
“Research shows that when you teach something to someone, you have 90 percent retention for the subject matter,” she said. “You only have 10 percent retention when someone teaches it to you. These kids are learning how to be teachers, too.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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