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Verona Early Grade Reading Achievement Program

The Verona Early Grade Reading Achievement Program is striving for 80 percent of its K-2 students at Verona Elementary School in Battle Creek to read at or above grade level. Coaching for teachers, leveled book sets in the classroom, a summer reading component, and trained community volunteers that come in weekly to tutor are all part of the mix to help children excel in reading. 
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
Calhoun Intermediate School District Literary Consultant Jessica Hackworth: When I look at the program, what I thinks sets it apart from others is the community and home components. Volunteer mentors give their time each week to help our kids improve their reading, and we keep their parents involved, too. It takes more than one resource, adult, or influence to help children reach their full reading potential.
What are the keys to success for your program?
There are several. One key is the fact that we utilize volunteers. They attend training first, so that we can educate them on what strategies teachers use in classrooms – the strategies necessary for reading instruction. They come once a week. Each child is paired with a reading mentor, and we try to make it consistent with the same person each week for the whole school year. This is because part of this is helping kids improve their reading skills, but another is the relationship between the
It takes more than one resource, adult, or influence to help children reach their full reading potential.
children and the mentors. This way, the message being sent to the kids is something like, “Reading is so important that I am going to take time out of my day to help you read.”
Another key to success is our literacy nights. We have four per year where families attend with the students and engage in reading and writing activities. Along with that, teachers hold an extra conference for parents that is focused only on literacy.
We supply our teachers with classroom libraries of leveled books so that students can read materials at their own instructional levels. And our take-home reading and summer reading components are a great addition. Every night, each child takes home a book that’s at their own reading level. And every week, we mail each of them one book so that they will continue reading through summer vacation.
Like I said, there are many keys to success. Another is the coaching and professional development that we offer instructors. The type varies from teacher to teacher, but I go into each of nine classrooms once a week to observe the teacher’s literacy block. I help them set goals to improve instruction if that’s necessary and provide further professional development sessions here.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
One challenge is that we still have a number of kids who need a reading buddy. So we continue to hold volunteer training sessions for new mentors. We have outreach programs with the local media and with Hands on Battle Creek. Of course, the
Each child is paired with a reading mentor, and we try to make it consistent with the same person each week for the whole school year.
United Way continues to promote our program. Their grant made this program possible.
We added a grade level this year – last year we served kindergarten and first grade, but this year we are helping second graders, too. That means 60 more kids, so we need to stretch the budget to accommodate this many with extra classroom time, extra time to spend with teachers and reading buddies, and upkeep and other things that cost money. That’s why we are continually recruiting new volunteers.
Roughly, what percentage of your students read at or above grade level now? How does this percentage compare with the numbers that existed before your program was in place?
Last year’s kindergarteners were 81 percent proficient and first graders were at 74 percent. We met our goals, though, because last year’s expectations were a bit different. They have been raised this year. This year’s expectations are newer, higher, and tougher.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year? 
The best lesson I have pulled from this program this year is that all kids can succeed if they are given the right tools.
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  • Calhoun Intermediate School District
    The mission of the Calhoun Intermediate School District is to develop, coordinate and provide researched-based educational services for its constituencies in an innovative and responsive manner to prepare those we serve to succeed in a global ...


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