Havre Daily News
Several area elementary schools will have brand new reading textbooks and extra support next fall because of a federal reading program.
Reading First - a nearly $1 billion national reading program funded in conjunction with No Child Left Behind, President Bush's sweeping education initiative - helps schools with struggling readers and low-income students improve reading scores.
Among 24 Montana school districts that participate are the Box Elder, Rocky Boy and Harlem districts, which were accepted into the program this summer. Hays-Lodge Pole Elementary School has participated in Reading First for two years, since the program began in Montana.
Schools with low reading scores and a high percentage of poor students are accepted into the program, state specialist Kathy Tiefenthaler said. The program funds new textbooks, staff training and a reading coach at participating schools.
Last school year Hays-Lodge Pole's program received about $117,000 in Reading First grant funding. Rocky Boy, Box Elder and Harlem elementary schools each entered the program in May and were allocated about $20,000 to $30,000 to complete the fiscal year. Those numbers will go up when school starts and the program is completely in place at those schools, Montana Office of Public Instruction chief of staff Madalyn Quinlan said Tuesday.
All participating school districts have been sending staffers to workshops to help them prepare for the next school year.
Hays-Lodge Pole reading coach Nedra Horn said the benefit has been clear. Her school entered the program with the first batch of about 15 Montana districts and already is meeting the state's testing standards. In the past, the school had not met those standards, she said.
"We try to get schools to look at scientifically based programs," Tiefenthaler said about the Reading First program.
It allows schools to pick from among nationally recognized reading curricula, purchase many of the materials, and train teachers and administrators to use the curriculum, Tiefenthaler said.
The goal is that after three years the school can pick up the cost of the program and hopefully keep a reading coach on staff. Reading coaches work with teachers, rather than students, and advise them how to deal with reading problems.
Reading First is for students in kindergarten through third grade and requires that students attend 90 minutes of reading class each day.
Some schools, like Rocky Boy Elementary School, chose to purchase the textbooks for all elementary school grades to have continuity.
"We're really excited. With the research, we know we're going to make some big differences in our reading scores," Rocky Boy Elementary School principal Josephine Corcoran said after returning from a Reading First training session last month.
Rocky Boy has chosen the Houghton Mifflin reading program, which stresses teaching phonics.
"The research is saying that phonics instruction is necessary to anyone," Corcoran said. In the past, phonics instruction was used mainly in lower reading levels at Rocky Boy schools, but Corcoran said she's learned that older students who are struggling can benefit from phonics too.
She and her staff are also a bit overwhelmed by all that is new in the curiculum.
"At the end of three years I will have a whole staff of reading experts," Corcoran said. "We'll be so well trained. Hopefully we'll just need to keep up with the research."
Harlem Elementary School began a new reading curriculum two years ago, even though the school wasn't in the Reading First program. It won't be reimbursed for that cost, but the school will benefit from the professional training and reading coach funding that Reading First provides, principal Sally Grill said Tuesday.
Grill said she and her teachers have learned more about the curriculum they have used through the workshops.
After two years with a new curriculum and as members of Reading First, Horn said teachers at Hays-Lodge Pole Elementary School are comfortable with it. That school chose the curriculum Success for All, which emphasizes cooperative learning and group work, she said.
"In the very beginning it was hard for (the students) as well as the teachers," Horn said. Students are often placed in small groups to brainstorm answers and that was new for them.
"We do have reluctant students, but there are ways to get them involved," Horn said. "Everyone has something they do well and we focus as that."