Teachers have started extra programs to help encourage more reading.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Learning to read was a struggle for 8-year-old Frankie Gagliardo.
"First and second grade were a real challenge to him," said his mother, Renata Gagliardo, of New Castle.
"Of all the homework teachers provided, reading was more or less a new development for him and he wasn't really prepared."
Now in third grade, Frankie is reading at grade level thanks to Success For All, a program the New Castle School District instituted when he was in first grade, his mother said.
Program goals: The program goal is to have every pupil reading at grade level when they finish third grade.
Every morning pupils in grades one through three spend 90 uninterrupted minutes learning to read and every eight weeks they are evaluated to determine if they can read and comprehend for their grade level.
As part of the program, each child is required to read out loud 20 minutes each day at home and special in-school tutors are provided for those who are struggling.
A success: School officials are calling it a success, saying there have been improvements in reading at each of the district's four primary centers.
For example, when John F. Kennedy Primary Center started the program, 42 percent of the pupils were reading at or above grade level, said Polly Woodring, reading specialist and program facilitator at that school. By May 2001, it had jumped to 61 percent, she said.
"What I see with this program is that every child is being instructed at a level in which they can be successful. The children are actively involved all 90 minutes at something they can be successful with," she said.
The district has also started a kindergarten component of the program that helps prepare pupils for reading in the first grade. Teachers say it has also brought results.
"When we began, we had 100 students in first grade, and 39 of them were at the very beginning level, which when assessed meant they could not read any words at all," said Angela Joseph, program facilitator and reading specialist at West Side Primary Center.
But this year none of the 88 pupils in the first grade class started at that lowest level, she said. All of the children were at or above the fourth level of the program, which meant they could all read some words, Joseph added.
"I've been teaching for 27 years," Joseph said. "We went from one thing to another over the years. Different fads in reading from phonics to whole language. The thing about Success For All is it uses every component that works and puts it together in one program."
The pupils are using phonics, sight words, reading and writing strategies and even partnering with other pupils at their reading level to help one another learn, teachers said.
Ability, not grade: The pupils are put into reading groups according to their reading ability, not grade level.
School officials said that while Success For All is a very structured program, it has also given them the opportunity to start new programs to improve pupils' reading skills.
Joseph said she started a program called lunchtime learners, meant to help those children just below their grade reading level.
They meet each Wednesday in the library and do extra reading work for incentives such as potato chips or prizes, she said.
Carol Herbert, program facilitator and reading specialist at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center, said third-graders there are reading to children at a nearby preschool as part of a program to encourage their passion for books.
And each school has brought in more community volunteers to listen to children read.
Success For All requires children to read at home 20 minutes each day and answer comprehension questions. But teachers were finding that some children didn't have a parent available to listen.
To help, all of the schools recruited community members, which include parents and senior citizens, to come to the schools in the afternoons and listen.
Herbert said Thaddeus Stevens recruited Westminster College students to listen to the kids read over the telephone.
She noted that they also found some pupils who didn't have books at home to read, so the school started a lending library, separate from the school library.
Growth: "We asked parents and community members to donate books. We started out with 46 books, and now have over 1,000," she said.
Administrators say they are pleased with the program and plan to continue it next year, even after the $140,000 federal grant paying for it ends.
"We are very happy with it, and our students are starting to feel good about themselves. Once they start meeting with success, that improves self esteem," said George Gabriel, administrative assistant to the school superintendent who oversees Success For All for the district.
The program was created in the mid-1980s at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and is now being used in about 1,800 elementary schools in 48 states, according to the Success For All Foundation, the entity that oversees the program.