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John Monfredo: Worcester’s Unique Approach to Improve Literacy

Saturday, December 07, 2013

 

Being able to read proficiently is the crucial perquisite to becoming educated. Once you can read, you acquire the knowledge needed to be productive workers and good citizens. Thus, reading proficiency by the end of the third grade has become a goal throughout the nation. Research states that this is an important predictor of high school graduation and career success. It has been pointed out that every year 68% of America’s children and more than 80% of children from low-income families miss this crucial milestone.

The Committee for Economic Development stated, “High-quality early education programs are vital to future economic growth and maintaining a highly skilled workforce. Support and investments at the national, state, and local levels for early education programs must continue to be a priority despite the downturn in the economy.”

National reading policies

A number of states face new state reading policies for the early grades that call for the identification of struggling readers, require interventions to help them, and in some cases, mandate the retention of 3rd graders who lack adequate reading skills. According to the Education Commission of the States, a non-partisan agency that provides education policies to help state leaders develop educational ideas, 32 states plus the District of Columbia now have statutes in place intended to improve reading proficiency by the end of the 3rd grade.

However, mandating retention at the end of the grade three by many states is not the way to improve reading nor was having Congress mandate (NCLB) that by the year 2014 every student would be proficient in reading and math. Let me point out that Massachusetts is not one of those states that mandate retention as the answer. Improving reading has to start before a child enters school and school districts need to come up with a plan to make it work.

Books for Babies

The Worcester Public Schools is attempting to make a dent in the achievement gap by having an early literacy program for new mothers. This program is entitled, “Books for Babies.” This early literacy initiative is to prepare all children in the city to be reading ready when they begin their education in our schools. Partnerships with UMass Memorial and the Senior Center with funding from the Henry E. Niles Foundation and the Webster Five Foundation have helped launch this program.

Let me point out that Massachusetts is not one of those states that mandate retention as the answer. Improving reading has to start before a child enters school and school districts need to come up with a plan to make it work.

The Worcester Public Schools is attempting to make a dent in the achievement gap by having an early literacy program for new mothers. This program is entitled, “Books for Babies.” This early literacy initiative is to prepare all children in the city to be reading ready when they begin their education in our schools. Partnerships with UMass Memorial and the Senior Center with funding from the Henry E. Niles Foundation and the Webster Five Foundation have helped launch this program.

This program is the first of its kind in an urban school district in Massachusetts and it will serve as another way of making our city a truly city that reads. As author Emilie Buchward stated, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” This is exactly what this program attempts to accomplish! The program is a great beginning for it calls attention to the importance of a parent reading to their child but the program needs to be expanded.

Someone needs to follow-up with parents after that hospital visit and assist them in this most important endeavor. We need to teach parents that talking to your baby is essential as is repeating nursery rhymes, singing songs, play peek-a-boo and responding to the needs of the child with soothing words. Parents need to tell their babies stories while the child is being changed or having a bottle. Babies need to hear the voice of the mother and learn about things that they see in their environment.

Reading picture books is important as is showing the child objects in the home for this all ads up to the child learning words and enriching their vocabulary. Parents need to use the languages that they are most comfortable for them so that the babies hear lots of different words and ideas. Many take these ideas for granted but there is a need to teach our new parents what is needed in the life of a baby. Learning a language and establishing a readiness for reading all starts at birth.

Reach Out and Read

Another program in the Worcester area that assists parents is the National recognized program, “Reach Out and Read.” In this program pediatrician give books to parents and talk to parents about the importance of reading. There are 13 sites in the area with most pediatricians working with low-income parents.

Let’s all remember that children become readers before they learn to read. Enjoying books together now will help them enjoy books later on their own. Parents need to learn to make books a part of their daily routine and establish a special reading time for the child before going to bed, during a meal or while you ride on a bus. When reading together, encourage the child to talk. Another idea for young children is teaching them to draw. Give the child paper and crayons and have the child draw a picture and then have the child explain the picture.

Questions that must be addressed

Can we expand on these two programs and get social agencies or health providers to make home visits? Or can we work with our school nurses in this endeavor as this year Head Start is doing with home visits? These are earnest questions to pursue if we want our children to have the readiness skills entering school.

Next, we need to get our children into pre-school whether it’s public or private. We need to work with our legislators to get the needed resources and establish more full day pre-school sites in and around the community. I know that it is costly, but not as much as remedial programs for the poor –reader. In those pre-school years the children need to recognize familiar letters and words such as their name and attempt to write them. They need to identify words that rhyme or have the same beginning and they need to learn how to hold a book right side up, turn pages, and understand that pages are read from left to right and from top to bottom. Most importantly, children need to start to develop a love for reading.

Worcester Educational Collaboration campaign

Other initiatives that need to take place are to have an all out media campaign calling attention to the importance of reading and to assist our children in learning to read. In Worcester, the Worcester Educational Collaboration has a committee working on a campaign of grade level reading and is in the progress of developing an action plan. This effort needs to be community wide with businesses, social agencies, higher education, the health community and the schools (public and private) working together.

The campaign, led by Dr. Jennifer Carey, executive director of the Worcester Educational Collaborative, has on the table, in cooperation with United Way, several ideas for the campaign. The final plan hopes to be rolled out in January. Some ideas generated are:

  • Books to all kindergartens and building over four years to first, second and third grade. Scholastic Books is offering low-cost books and is looking to partner with the United Way on literacy. Using the Internet, ePals (adult volunteers) would write back and forth with the students about each of the books that their teacher has selected for them to read.
  • Books and support to a class of readers in a school. In partnership with In2Books and ePals, $6,000 per classroom would allow a class of readers both books and mentors. For every 2 classrooms sponsored by the United Way, In2Books will provide a 3rd classroom for free. United Way would prioritize second and third grade classrooms at Worcester’s Level IV schools for this opportunity. In2Books was created in 1997 to enhance the intellectually stimulating work available to students in low-income neighborhoods. A basic tenet of In2Books is that all children are capable of deep learning.
  • Build a library in a “low performing school.” A local philanthropist has spearheaded an initiative to build libraries some of our low performing schools.
  • Expand United Way’s Summer Literacy Initiative to avoid summer loss. Reach has shown that children in low-income families lose between two and three months of academic growth due to lack of literacy time during the summer. Currently the project is working with Elm Park, Guild of St. Agnes, Rainbow Child Development Center at Treasure Valley, and the Worcester YMCA. The plan is to expand reading opportunities for the children in Worcester.

 

Other initiatives

Other ideas being considered by the Worcester Educational Collaborative are making books accessible to children and students throughout the year, working with the Worcester Public Library on a variety of programs, working with parents on literacy initiatives, and reaching out to the community to support reading programs.

Other initiatives across the nation at a state level call for districts to provide one of several options to assist struggling readers in the earlier grades by providing reading instruction during the summer time and after school during the school year. Some states are giving additional assistance at the kindergarten level, using research based reading instruction, intensive reading intervention strategies and a longer summer school program.

Let’s hope that best practices that show promise are shared by all and that the movement continues until we get most of our children reading on grade level by the end of grade three.

 

Related Slideshow: Highest Paid Teachers in Central MA

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State Total

Average Salary: $70,962

Salary Totals: $4,767,693,316

FTE Count: 67,187

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#20 Mendon-Upton

Average Salary: $69,336

Salary Totals: $10,518,274

FTE Count: 152

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#20 Uxbridge

Average Salary: $69,366

Salary Totals: $9,336,645

FTE Count: 135

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#18 Sturbridge

Average Salary: $69,580

Salary Totals: $4,703,624

FTE Count: 68

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#17 Nashoba

Average Salary: $70,316

Salary Totals: $17,171,217

FTE Count: 244

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#16 Leicester

Average Salary: $71,218

Salary Totals: $7,940,828

FTE Count: 112

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#15 Clinton

Average Salary: $71,564

Salary Totals: $8,881,051

FTE Count: 124

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#14 Shrewsbury

Average Salary: $71,957

Salary Totals: $27,199,684

FTE Count: 378

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#13 Boylston

Average Salary: $72,165

Salary Totals: $1,970,107

FTE Count: 27

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#12 Blackstone Valley

Average Salary: $72,563

Salary Totals: $6,501,608

FTE Count: 90

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#11 Millbury

Average Salary: $72,819

Salary Totals: $9,386,321

FTE Count: 129

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#10 Tantasqua

Average Salary: $74,006

Salary Totals: $10,368,310

FTE Count: 140

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#9 Fitchburg

Average Salary: $74,539

Salary Totals: $25,253,787

FTE Count: 339

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#8 Sutton

Average Salary: $76,242

Salary Totals: $7,265,901

FTE Count: 95

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#7 Westborough

Average Salary: $76,637

Salary Totals: $20,239,736

FTE Count: 264

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#6 Northborough

Average Salary: $77,592

Salary Totals: $10,800,782

FTE Count: 139

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#5 Berlin

Average Salary: $78,178

Salary Totals: $1,602,654

FTE Count: 21

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#4 Southborough

Average Salary: $79,771

Salary Totals: $8,647,168

FTE Count: 108

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#3 Northboro-Southboro

Average Salary: $83,573

Salary Totals: $8,549,517

FTE Count: 102

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#2 Harvard

Average Salary: $86,826

Salary Totals: $6,920,004

FTE Count: 80

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

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#1 Worcester

Average Salary: $89,065

Salary Totals: $141,069,458

FTE Count: 1,584

Note: FTE or full-time equivalent is a way to express the time of a full-time worker.

 
 

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