Reading really is fundamental in every aspect of life, and Pocahontas County Schools has been implementing new programs to ensure that students are not only learning to read, but gaining an understanding of their literacy and the knowledge they are absorbing.
In spring 2021, director of curriculum, instruction and federal programs Lynne Bostic, English/Language arts coach Stephanie Burns and Hillsboro Elementary School principal Becky Spencer worked together to achieve a literacy grant for professional development with the kindergarten through second grade teachers.
This grant is focused on giving the county’s early education teachers a chance to work together to create new strategies to help their students learn to read and implement their skills in all subject areas.
“This is the first of its kind; they are supporting each other in growth,” Spencer said. “It’s not a top down ‘this is what you need to do now’ thing. They feel more respected that they have something of value to share with each other. When you ping ideas off of each other, you both grow into the concept, and they’re starting to do that – pinging ideas off each other. What they started with and even where they’re going in just a couple months is really impressive to see.”
Because the three elementary schools in Pocahontas County are so far apart, the teachers have a difficult time collaborating more often and this grant provides support to allow them to meet – whether it’s by online video chat or in person.
The teachers are taking new ways of teaching to their classrooms and recording how the students respond. Once they watch the video of a lesson, they are able to tweak the lesson plan and suggest ways to engage the students more.
“It’s the strategy that they’re using that they’re really trying to refine,” Bostic added.
Each grade level has a certain skill it is focused on developing – kindergarten is vocabulary; first grade is opinion writing and second grade is phonics.
In addition to the literacy grant, the county also received funding from the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, which focuses on kindergarten through third grade.
“One thing the Campaign for Grade Level made possible is the purchase of books, because a big indicator is where children don’t have books at home,” Burns said. “So for several years, [those funds] have gone to purchase books. This summer, we will be getting more books into their hands.”
Burns said that illiteracy is a real problem, not just statewide, but nationwide, and she has seen students struggle in her 18 years as a teacher.
“For example, I have sixth graders who are reading on a first grade level, so there is a definite need,” she said. “It’s not something new. I’ve taught sixth grade for eighteen years, and I always have children struggling. I will say that as time has passed, students are struggling more.
“There has been a decrease in reading scores nationwide, and we’re trying to address it,” she continued. “The literacy grant was actually to be from birth to grade level three. It’s called ‘Sparking Your Early Literacy grant’ because they know how important it is to get that foundational skill to prepare them to be better readers.”
In addition to the years of struggles with literacy, the COVID-19 pandemic made it even harder for students with literacy issues. It also made it harder for the schools to provide books for the students who were used to going to the public libraries for reading material.
Now that the pandemic mandates have loosened, the students have returned to the libraries and have access to books again.
The school system also participates in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides free books to children.
With several programs implemented to increase the literacy skills of younger students, the trio of educators are enthusiastic about the future.
“Everything is being changed as we go, but the staff has been so positive,” Bostic said.