Changing Perspectives on Reading

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Bertha Holt Elementary School
Photo credit: http://bit.ly/YviOUs

By: Caitlin Taylor

Cindy Hinton sits at her desk and scours the numbers of the results of the at home reading program she created for Bertha Holt Elementary School. She adds up numbers and double checks them. Only 50-percent of the students have actually finished the reading program. Her stomach drops and she’s devastated. She knows why these numbers are low; lack of money, lack of effort and lack of ability.

Hinton is the Title 1 and Essential Skills Coordinator at Holt Elementary and has worked at the school for nine years, since it first opened in 2004. Throughout her time at Holt Elementary, Hinton has worked to change the culture of reading and improve the literacy of the students despite their “socio-economic status” with the help of a federally funded program, her own creative drive and the support of the other staff members.

Title 1

Title 1—Improving The Academic Achievement of The Disadvantaged is a federal program that aids schools with predominantly low-income families. The purpose of the program is “to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to a high-quality education.” The two focus areas are math and reading, which are a part of the core curriculum at elementary schools in Eugene.

“The academic program at Holt … is organized around being sure that children have core skills,” Kevin Boling, principal of Holt Elementary says, “…which include reading, writing and math.”

Holt elementary became Title 1 recognized in the 2008-2009 school year and Hinton took on the job of coordinating the program for the school.

“The cool thing is that I created this program,” she says. Hinton describes the process as “exciting” because she has always liked the creative aspects that it took to make the program.

“Creating the program got me excited again, to not do the same thing all the time,” she says.

Logistics of Title 1 Funding

Each school district is in charge of the money allotted to the program and dispersing it into the schools in their district. The Eugene 4J School District has 39 schools and there are 20 schools recognized as Title 1 eligible, including one charter school and four private schools.

This year the district has one school a part of the Priority School list for 2013, a group of schools in the bottom five-percent of all Title 1 programs in the state. As well as one elementary school is listed as a Focus School, ranking in the bottom 15-percent of programs. These schools receive additional funding because of this categorization.

Typically, schools must report 40-percent of students receiving free and reduced lunches in order to collect the federal funds. Due to recent shifts in the economy more schools in the district have become Title 1 recognized. However, the district’s “pot of money” for the Title 1 program remains the same but with more schools to divide it among. This leaves the district to lessen the funds for Holt Elementary. Hinton suspects that the district may “raise the bar” for next year and increase the percentage of low-income students each school must have to receive their funding. Holt expects to see a 10-percent decline in funds for the next school year.

Two Separate Programs

There are two types of programs within Title 1. First, there is the “school- wide” program where the funds received can be used on any student or staff member in the school. The second program is the “targeted” approach where any of the staff funded by Title 1 can only work with students who are “targeted” to receive help based upon the guidelines.

The nation-wide guidelines are that students who fall into the 20th percentile and below in math and reading ability are the “targeted” students. For the Eugene 4J district this group is expanded to reach students in the 30th percentile and below to increase the reach of the program.

At first, Holt Elementary was only recognized for the “targeted” program. This meant that, “all of the Title 1 instruction had to be supplemental to the required stuff,” Hinton says. For example, if there was a two-hour required reading time in a class, students who were struggling could not be pulled out of class for assistance during that time. Instead, they would have to schedule additional reading time during another part of class. During this period, Hinton felt restricted, only being able to help students who were targeted and only creating programming for those students instead of the entire school who could also benefit.

Holt Elementary became a “school-wide” program in the 2009-2010 school year. Since then, Hinton has worked with Boling to create reading programs and incentives that the entire school can participate in to increase the importance and emphasis on reading.

Idita-Read

Once Hinton was able to create programming for every student, she established the Idita-Read program. Idita-Read is a national program that encourages reading while mirroring the Iditarod race, an annual sledding competition. Hinton implemented the program herself and helped to fit the program for Holt Elementary. The main goal of the program was to increase reading at home for the students.

“The most striking thing I have found, throughout my career and in Title 1, is all the research that identifies home reading as a predictor for school success. Even being read to is a key predictor,” says Hinton.

Each week at Holt Elementary, students in first through fifth grade are assigned to read 20 minutes a night Monday through Thursday. Hinton found that students were struggling to complete the homework “across the board”, whether the students were from low-income families or wealthy families.

 “There just wasn’t a sense that it was important,” says Hinton. She believes that for most families reading isn’t being emphasized because “there isn’t a worksheet to fill out.”

 The Idita-Read program was intended to jump start reading at home and raise the percentage of students finishing their weekly reading.

            Hinton used a general outline from the national Idita-Read program and built Holt Elementary a program tailored to their needs. The program lasted for 16 weeks and students would have to travel along a trail based on how much of their reading they completed.

 “There were incredible incentives built into the program. It was just really fun,” says Hinton. Students who completed their reading received a raffle ticket. Each week, Boling would draw a winner of the raffle and announce their name on the intercom. The winner would get to go to Hinton’s office and choose a new book to read. There were incentives that were of little cost, like bookmarks and erasers but students were the most excited for the no cost incentives.

 “We found that things like sitting on the stage at lunch or getting to be in line first for lunch were the things that most kids wanted to reach,” Hinton says.

Each classroom had its own spreadsheet and parent volunteers would enter the student’s reading logs into the spreadsheet each week. After students turned in their reading, the volunteers would take each child into the hallway and personally move the paw that represented their progress along the trail.

“The program was designed so that as long as they read the minimum amount required they would finish the trail,” Hinton says.

Each student who finished the trail was able to have popcorn and watch a movie in the cafeteria in one large group. For the top 20 students in each grade Hinton organized a trip to Camp Nome, named after the city where the Iditarod takes place.

Camp Nome took place in the library on a Friday night with 15 to 20 staff volunteers to help out. There were real tents set up and a fire pit to tell camp stories and play games. Besides cookies and pizza there were also different stations for dancing, games and arts and crafts. The final prize, for the top student in each grade was a stuffed huskie, the most popular incentive of all. “These kids could go out and buy it for five bucks but they wanted this one,” says Hinton.

Each year Hinton would analyze the results of the program. After the first year, she found that only 50-percent of students had finished the entire trail.

“It was distressing. There were so many incentives it was almost disturbing that there weren’t more finishing,” she says.

The next year the numbers rose to 75 percent where it stayed for the following year and what would be the last year of the program. The intent of the program was to target the students who struggled with reading and they were a large part of the group who were not completing the trail. Idita-Read inspired the students who liked reading to continue but students who struggled with reading weren’t being reached. Furthermore, the program was utilizing a large chunk of parent volunteers who were then “too burnt out” to volunteer in other aspects of the school.

Hinton and Boling decided that the resources could be put to use differently and called off the program. Especially with both retiring within the year, they weren’t sure that the program could be sustained or transitioned.

“It was kind of like a death for me because I loved it that much… I would do it again in a heartbeat,” says Hinton.

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A wall in Holt Elementary.
Photo credit: http://bit.ly/YviOUs

 

Moving Forward

            Hinton now dedicates her time to organizing volunteers to help with students who are struggling with reading. Students are assigned to come to her classroom and work on specific parts of reading that they struggle with, with the help of several parent volunteers.

            Incentives are also a popular part of reading and some teachers are taking matters into their own hands. The first grade classes now have a raffle for a new book based upon how much they read.

            “I believe incentives are helpful for students that otherwise may not be motivated to read. … They are excited about turning in their reading logs or calendars and getting to choose a free book to take home,” says Leah Willow, a first grade teacher at Holt Elementary.

            Hinton hopes that who ever ends up replacing her will be able to revitalize school-wide programming to create a “culture of reading” that improves the literacy of the students.

Low-Income Families

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reading ability is affected by economic status. In 2009 only 16-percent of students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs were proficient in reading compared to 42-percent proficiency for students who are not eligible. Willow finds that the students’ backgrounds influence their schoolwork.

“These students are less likely to have attended preschool, visited public libraries or have a literature rich learning environment where parents are reading to their children on a regular basis,” Willow says.

As a predominantly low-income school, Hinton wanted to bridge the gap between the economic backgrounds. Hinton and Boling came together to create Family Nights, an event they’ve been hosting for three years. The event is held for each class of kindergartners and first grade students, eight in total, in the Fall.

“The purpose is to continue to create a culture of reading in the school and that parents, teachers and students know the impact of home reading,” Hinton says.

At the Family Nights, parents and their child are invited for pizza in the library and then a presentation. Hinton uses a DVD that comes out of the Washington school systems called “Talking and Books”. The video is intended for teaching parents of pre-school aged children techniques for reading and sharing books with their young readers. Hinton uses the DVD to jumpstart the process for a lot of the parents “who just don’t know how to talk to their kids about books and engage them”. The DVD provides simple strategies, like talking about the plot of the book while reading it.  This lack of reading at home early on impacts the students in the classroom.

“Once [children from low-income backgrounds] enter kindergarten, they are already at a disadvantage and have a lot of catching up to do. Even in first grade, I have students who struggle to turn pages of a book,” Willow says.

Following the presentation, Boling reads a book to the children using the

techniques presented in the video. Each family is then presented with a new book to read.

“It is the sweetest thing to watch. These are families where it is not the typical thing to read at home and they are sitting together, reading these books,” Hinton says.

Through these Family Nights, Hinton hopes to help parents understand the importance of reading at a young age and outside of school time. There is a cycle of poverty that Hinton has observed throughout her career: “Parents who are not read to or struggled don’t expect that of their children. In this economy, the first priority is food and clothes. It is not a priority to read. And those who say that socio-economic state doesn’t effect achievement are out of their minds,” Hinton says.

Willow says that the students who come from this background tend to not have access to “books or arts and crafts materials to help develop their fine motor and tracking skills”. While she believes that all students should have access to these materials, she is proud that Holt Elementary puts in the effort to provide such materials.

“Low-income students especially benefit from our school’s Book Nook, which is a library of books that students can “buy” with a quarter … or they can trade one of their books in for a new book,” she says.

Into the Future

While Hinton and Boling will not be around next year at Holt Elementary they have discussed taking the Family Night to other schools. They also want to explore going into housing developments in low-income communities where families may not have transportation or access to attending the programs at school.

            Their main goal is to shift the focus to the importance of reading.

“There are parents who are giving their kids iPods and iPads instead of books because that’s what middle class families have and they want to do the middle class thing,” Hinton says.

What’s In A Name?

            Holt Elementary is named after Bertha Holt, a woman who at age 51 adopted eight Korean children who were orphaned after the Korean War. She created the motto, “all children are beautiful when they are loved,” a mantra that the staff at Holt has adopted as their own. Hinton, along with Boling, has tried to create an atmosphere of support and love in their school in order to create successful future generations.

This year, Hinton sits at her same desk and reflects on how far reading has come during her time at Holt Elementary. With help from Boling she has been able to utilize Title 1 funding in ways to specifically aid Holt Elementary with a program that revitalized her teaching prospective and gave her the opportunity to finish her teaching career with “meaningful work”. Hinton has over 33 years of teaching experience and began as a special-education teacher. For her, ending her career as an aid to struggling readers feels like a “full circle”. She knows there are more students in the area that need help and as long as she is able, she plans to continue to work with them.

 

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