ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
“We feel that reading is the key to the success of all students,” said Tom Alstrom, Peabody-Burns USD 398 superintendent.
Few people would disagree. Reading is considered a fundamental skill and is an integral part of every grade school curriculum.
But what happens when a student gets to junior high or even senior high and hasn’t yet mastered basic reading skills? In many school districts, the answer may be “not much.”
USD 398 is meeting the issue head on and has hired a reading teacher who will spend her time helping junior and senior high students boost their reading skills.
“In the last three years we have really tried to put a focus on changing our reading strategy within the district,” Alstrom said.
“We started noticing that we had kids at the junior high and high school that were not competent readers. Some of those kids had moved in and were not in our lower elementary schools when we focused on reading.
“We feel that without good reading skills, success rates of individuals are going to be lower. So we’ve tried to focus on a way to help them improve their comprehension and their reading skills at the junior high and high school,” Alstrom said. “These kids don’t learn the same way everybody else does. They just need someone to find their method for learning how to read.”
That someone is Raquel Riggs, the new junior/senior high reading teacher.
Riggs graduated from Tabor College last December. This will be her first year as a professional teacher, but she has years of experience teaching reading.
“I did a lot of studying in reading,” she said. “I have five children of my own and a couple of them struggled with reading. The more they struggled, the more interested I became in how I could improve their reading.”
Her experience with struggling readers makes her ideally suited for her new role.
“We needed someone who was up to the challenge, who had a vested interest in reading and who had taught reading in a different method than what they were taught in college,” Alstrom said.
“Raquel’s had some experience working with kids that have difficulty reading and has had to expand out into different resources and different techniques.”
Riggs will need all the creativity and resourcefulness she can muster to design reading strategies that will work for each individual.
“There’s not a lot of curriculum and there’s not a lot of techniques that people will say work with older kids,” Alstrom said. “What we’re trying to do is pretty unique around the area, especially in junior and senior high.
“We’re doing a lot of different research and trying to branch out from the main stream ways that they teach kids reading. We figure these kids have had those and they don’t learn that way. We’re trying to find different methods that they will learn.”
Riggs will teach three high school classes and two junior high classes. Within those classes, there is a mix of students from different grade levels.
Students were identified for the classes through prior test scores.
“We went back and looked at our testing results and did a correlation between the two different types of tests we do,” Alstrom said. “We set a benchmark that kids who hadn’t met this criteria needed to be considered for the reading program.”
If it was felt a child could benefit from the class, a letter was sent home to parents stating that further reading development was needed.
Riggs said she will use a combination of individual and group work in her classes.
“We’ll look at the specific reading skills that they need – anything from phonics to comprehension and fluency,” she said. “We’ll have different activities that will help with each of those.
“It really depends on each individual student-it will be a little bit of everything.
“The most important goal is for the students to become more confident in their reading and increase their reading level,” she said. “I feel sometimes that confidence is a large part of a reading problem. If they can become more confident with what they’re doing and successful, then they’re going to show growth.
The success of the program will be measured through future test scores, reading ability and comprehension, Alstrom said.
“Our goal would be to get all kids up to reading level,” he said. “When a kid’s been frustrated with reading for four or five years, it’s pretty hard to change their attitude about reading in junior and senior high.
“But we think they deserve the opportunity to do that, and that’s the way we’re approaching it.”