Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Reading First in place at primary schools, McLaurin

By Julie Finley

The Natchez Democrat

Email newsletter signup

NATCHEZ &045; If a kindergartner at West Primary isn’t quite getting a reading skill, there’s a team of four educators standing guard to drill it home.

The design of the Reading First grant, also in place at Frazier Primary and McLaurin Elementary, is to make sure students don’t leave a grade lacking any required reading fluency. The key is to build a solid foundation from the start, coordinators say.

The classroom teacher, an assistant, a reading interventionist and a literacy coach work with the students on the research-based five components of reading &045; competency, vocabulary, fluency, phonics and phonemic awareness.

Kindergarten through third-grade students spend 90 minutes every morning in a reading block. Interruptions are at a minimum &045; only emergency bathroom breaks &045; and they work in several small groups.

The teacher and assistant run two small groups, while the other children rotate to hands-on centers that key in on specific reading skills.

&uot;The teachers really like that time to work with the children,&uot; West Literacy Coach Annie Barnes said.

And the students like it, too, teacher Katie Spence said.

&uot;They like all the literacy centers,&uot; she said. Last week Spence’s kindergartners made letters out of clay at one of their centers.

&uot;It prepares them for first-grade,&uot; teacher Diane Verucchi said. &uot;(Rotating centers) make them feel more independent.&uot;

For the teachers the new system has required some adjustments to their teaching style, but nothing too major, Barnes said.

West was already using a similar reading program &045; the Barksdale Reading Institute &045; last year.

McLaurin literacy coach Margery Bennett said her school already had most of the materials needed to implement Reading First.

&uot;(Teachers) are just making little adjustments,&uot; she said. &uot;We’ve been doing it this way all along, now we are just making sure it’s done within 90 minutes.&uot;

Reading First also includes three sets of testing for every student.

At the start of the year the children take one test to measure what they know. Results determine whether the child meets with a reading interventionist or not.

Each school participating has an interventionist who meets with the students in groups less than five to review specific skills.

Students identified with weaknesses take a test every two weeks to measure their progress.

Another test will be given to all students in December and April to see what they’ve learned.

The coach and interventionist are new positions at all three schools. The reading specialists work full-time giving tests, grading tests and working with the kids and teachers.

Bennett has been teaching for 24 years and was most recently a second-grade classroom teacher.

&uot;This is a nice change,&uot; she said. &uot;I get both ends, to observe and go in and teach the class.&uot;

The salaries, materials and training are covered by a million dollar grant.

Concordia Parish Schools initiated the Reading First program last year and Coordinator Cindy Smith has said she’s pleased with the progress so far.