Learning to read, reading to learn

Jill Delamar shows an example of an exercise to help students with their reading.

Third grade is a point in school where students go from learning to read, to reading to learn.

Superintendents from the four area school districts have joined up with Trident United Way to kick off the Reading by Third initiative, a three-year pilot program designed to raise reading proficiency rates of children by the end of third grade.

The initiative with Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester Districts Two and Four provides teacher training conducted by the University of Florida Lastinger Center in an effort to raise these reading proficiency rates; the program is taking place in four Charleston County schools and focusing on pre-kindergarten students. In Berkeley and Dorchester counties, eight schools are focusing on students in kindergarten through second grade.

The program is being implemented at Oakbrook Elementary in DD2, and Principal Monica O’Dea and first-grade teacher Jill Delamar said they are excited about this initiative; both participated in the four-day training this summer.

Delamar is in her eighth year at Oakbrook Elementary. She taught first grade for four years, did interventions for two, and now she is in her sixth year teaching first grade. She has a master’s in literacy education from The Citadel.

Delamar said it is important for students to be reading on grade level by third grade, because that is when students are beginning to read more for content – particularly in areas like science and social studies.

“They need to have those components to read multisyllabic words and figure out how to break those down and figure the meanings of words,” Delamar said. “They need to have those already in their belt in order to fully succeed in those upper grades where they are learning more content-related items.”

According to the S.C. Department of Education, 63 Oakbrook third-graders either met or exceeded expectations in English in 2016, while 73 third-graders approached or didn't meet expectations.

Overall, 14 percent of Oakbrook students who took the SC READY exam didn't meet expectations in English, and 12.5 percent of DD2 students who took the exam didn't meet expectations in English, according to the state website.

Statewide, 22 percent of students taking the SC READY exam didn't meet expectations in English. The SC READY exam is given to third- through eighth-grade students.

Trident United Way, which is serving as the community connector for conversations among the four school districts, announced the partnership in August. Superintendent Joe Pye said at the time that all the area school districts agree literacy is the No. 1 issue that needs to be looked at.

“It needs to start early as possible, and we cannot do it by ourselves,” he said, adding, “Why can’t we share our resources and, most importantly, our knowledge, and work as a community…? Let’s tackle the community problem together – and I’m so proud of my colleagues, they do a great job.”

The program is being implemented at Clay Hill Elementary and Harleyville Elementary in Dorchester District 4.

“I think by addressing what teachers need to do to identify those areas I think will help us bring our students up quicker,” Superintendent Morris Ravenell previously said.

Trident United Way is also providing funding for up to $1.5 million for the next three years to implement this program in the tri-county area.

Shared protocols and evaluation standards will allow the partners to collect and measure the data together and determine the program’s effectiveness.

With the partnership, Delamar said Oakbrook Elementary students still focus on differentiated reading in the classroom, whole group instruction, shared reading/guided reading time – one difference will be that the school is focusing on one-on-one tutoring; educators will keep data on each child in kindergarten through second grade who receive services – there will be approximately 17 for individual tutoring.

“Our administration has been amazing in trying to work it to where we will have one-on-one time with this child,” she said. The other students will be doing an instructional program on computers while the one-on-one session is occurring.

O’Dea has a reading background that includes Reading Recovery training. She said the University of Florida put together a systematic plan where teachers can utilize the most effective and strongest reading strategies with the at-risk learner.

“The systematic plan here ensures that a child’s getting the strongest strategies every single lesson and helps us focus on using the strongest strategies with those students,” she said.

Delamar said there are many different strategies and approaches to helping students, and teachers have been trained in different ways, so the initiative sets it up to where the same strategy is being used.

“What I remember kind of hitting me the most is how much word work is brought back into the session – more specifically changing up words and…seeing how they relate to each other,” she said.

Like ‘pen’ and ‘hen’ – they have the same rhyme but their onset is different. Word work helps students realize that if they can read ‘pen’ then they can read ‘hen’.

Delamar said they hope to get trained in more areas as well; this session was more specified for one-on-one but they hope to implement it into small group settings.

“We’re really excited about implementing it in those areas because I feel like it’s going to be beneficial for all the students,” she said.

Staff will keep track of the student’s progression through each session, and there is a core phonetics assessment will be used to track progress, mainly for word work.

The goal is that throughout the sessions, the student will be moving up in the level of text.

Oakbrook starts tutoring the one-on-one session this week. The goal is to get in 10 sessions before Thanksgiving break.

“So we’ll get together after Thanksgiving, we’ll look at the data, and hopefully the progress will continue,” she said.

Delamar said what she likes about the training is it helps her get into the mindset of using the full time frame with the child.

“Time is of the essence and you only have so much to get a lot of meaningful work in with that child,” she said.

Delamar said they try to encourage parents to read with their children every day – even if it’s the parent who is reading.

“I always send home information to parents about good questions to ask your child while they’re reading,” she said.

Delamar said she is really excited to “dive in” with the sessions.

“We’re very thankful that we were able to participate in this training and we’re very thankful that they thought of us when it kind of came about,” she said.