FORT WAYNE – The benefits of a new reading program are designed to be twofold – classroom experience for a handful of University of Saint Francis sophomores and the one-on-one attention some Forest Park Elementary School students need to succeed.
Each week, a group of 10 to 12 Saint Francis elementary education majors meet with about 80 second-graders from four Forest Park classes in small groups and one-on-one sessions for 90 minutes.
They read together, study vocabulary and exchange the occasional high-five after completing a challenging project.
From the elementary school perspective, the goal is simple, Forest Park Principal Robin Peterman said.
Find a program that works and then replicate it to help as many students as possible.
After third grade, so many things that these students will learn are contingent upon their ability to read, she said. If we can get it down to the precise kid and help them grow, we’re doing what we set out to do.
Stevie Rhiannon Patrick moved her finger along the sentences Wednesday, pausing to glance at Saint Francis sophomore Victoria Fries as she stumbled to read the words.
Fries smiled, pronouncing forever with her before they moved to the next task – finding and underlining the words that rhyme.
Stevie, 7, said she practices reading at home sometimes, but having Fries help her and answer questions makes it easier.
She comes to help me with my words sometimes, Stevie said. Sometimes when I’m reading I don’t know what the words say.
Wednesday marked the students’ fourth trip to visit Forest Park after school delays and cancellations in recent weeks forced them to cancel several visits.
Sophomore Payton Selking described the experience as eye-opening.
Today I worked with some students that English isn’t their first language. That’s sort of a culture shock, Selking said. They always tell us in class that we’ll see that different diversity, but it wasn’t until today I really did.
Selking’s group of students spent part of the day Wednesday completing a timed reading test where they were asked to read as far as they could in one minute.
Some of them read the whole front and the back of the page and did great and had no problems, he said. But then some of them barely made it through a few sentences in a minute.
The Big Goal
The partnership between Fort Wayne Community Schools and the university is part of the Big Goal Collaborative and is designed to help reach The Big Goal by improving third-grade reading in the region. The Big Goal is to increase the percentage of northeast Indiana residents with high-quality degrees or credentials to 60 percent by 2025.
Research shows 74 percent of students who cannot read at grade level by the third grade do not graduate from high school, according to Big Goal Collaborative officials.
Hoosier third-grade students take the IREAD-3 – Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination – assessment to make sure they can read proficiently before moving to fourth grade.
In 2013, 82 percent of Forest Park third-graders passed IREAD-3. Peterman said she hopes the new partnership will help increase that number to 100 percent.
We’ve asked them to work with our children as second-graders to try to give them a better opportunity to pass IREAD-3 when they take it as third-graders, Peterman said.
Students who struggle receive plenty of intervention and special attention and the highest-performing students benefit in other ways. But those students in the middle – those Saint Francis professor Brandi Prather-Leming calls bubble kids – are often left out.
We’re talking about those bubble kids who do well but need a little extra push to be up with the high achievers, said Prather-Leming, an associate professor in the university’s education department.
For the students who visit each week, there’s a definite benefit to spending time in a classroom and putting their teacher skills to work, Prather-Leming said.
They are in here, learning from experience and taking the strategies we have conversations about all the time in class and applying them, she said. So much of teaching is watching what is being learned and how it’s being learned.