The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ANN DOSS HELMS [email protected]­lot­teob­ with

Read Char­lotte of­fers strate­gies for par­ents and vol­un­teers to help kids read, hop­ing to make a dif­fer­ence where other pro­grams have failed.

Munro Richard­son was dis­mayed but hardly shocked to hear that a re­cent N.C. State Univer­sity study found no ben­e­fit from the state’s Read to Achieve pro­gram.

Hired three years ago to lead Read Char­lotte, a pri­vate push to boost third-grade read­ing, he had watched state and lo­cal test scores sag de­spite mas­sive ef­forts from the state and Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Schools. When the most re­cent re­port came out in Septem­ber, only 46 per­cent of third-graders in CMS and 45 per­cent statewide earned scores that in­di­cate they’re on track to suc­ceed in col­lege and ca­reers. Only about one-third of black, His­panic and low-in­come chil­dren hit that mark.

Richard­son took his own deep dive into read­ing test scores, com­par­ing five years of re­sults for 107 CMS ele­men­tary schools and six Char­lot­tearea char­ter schools.

“The pic­ture that emerges is not one of lower poverty schools do­ing bet­ter than higher poverty schools,” Richard­son wrote in an email to the Ob­server. “Or of char­ter schools do­ing bet­ter than CMS schools. The over­all trend for ALL SCHOOLS is headed in the wrong di­rec­tion. ... For the most part the pic­ture is grim.”

That doesn’t mean Richard­son and his donors are giv­ing up. In­stead, Richard­son said, they’ve spent the past three years comb­ing re­search for strate­gies that par­ents and vol­un­teers can use to make a dif­fer­ence – of­ten long be­fore chil­dren re­port to school.

Here are four op­por­tu­ni­ties for par­ents, rel­a­tives, vol­un­teers and donors to help young chil­dren be­come strong read­ers.

1. Stop read­ing to chil­dren … and start read­ing them.

In­stead of just read­ing a book to a child – which, of course, isn’t re­ally a bad thing – Read Char­lotte pushes “ac­tive read­ing.” That means the adult asks ques­tions about what might hap­pen next in the story, helps chil­dren learn words by dra­ma­tiz­ing them (“Don’t just read ‘whis­per,’ ac­tu­ally whis­per”) and talks about how the story re­lates to the child’s life.

Free work­shops on “The ABCs of Ac­tive Read­ing” are avail­able around the county; find the sched­ule at read­char­ /ac­tive-read­ing. Tu­tors trained in ac­tive read­ing work with stu­dents in eight CMS ele­men­tary schools; learn more and sign up at tu­tor­char­ read­ing-men­tors/.

2. Play games that build skills.

You don’t need to be a teacher or a col­lege grad­u­ate to help chil­dren learn let­ters and sounds. Home Read­ing Helper (home­read­ of­fers com­puter games and sim­ple home ac­tiv­i­ties that are tai­lored to a child’s age and read­ing level. For in­stance, a kinder­gart­ner might play “Frog’s Rhyming Ma­chine” or “Di­nosaur Field Guide,” while the par­ents could print out a vo­cab­u­lary list and get tips on how to work more words into daily con­ver­sa­tion.

Fam­i­lies can also sign up for weekly text mes­sages sug­gest­ing ad­di­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, also tai­lored to the child’s age, at Read­Char­ or by tex­ting READCLT to 70138.

3. Get free books – or pro­vide them for oth­ers.

The Char­lotte area has plenty of book drives, but the Dolly Par­ton Imag­i­na­tion Li­brary is of­fer­ing to send a free book each month to the home of any Meck­len­burg County child younger than 5 years old. Sign up at­startofmeck .org/pro­grams/dpil/, or get more in­for­ma­tion at [email protected]­ or 704-9439780.

Donors can also pitch in at the web­site; $30 cov­ers a year’s books for one child.

4. Help bud­ding read­ers get over the hump.

Some stu­dents who fail read­ing tests know how to read words but can’t put them to­gether well enough to en­joy read­ing and keep up with gradelevel work. De­vel­op­ing that skill, called flu­ency, is the fo­cus of a pro­gram called Help­ing Early Lit­er­acy with Prac­tice Strate­gies, or HELPS.

Richard­son says that pro­gram, de­vel­oped by N.C. State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor John Begeny, is one of his best finds from re­view­ing re­search on what works. Many read­ing in­ter­ven­tions have not been eval­u­ated well enough to say sci­en­tif­i­cally how many chil­dren are likely to ben­e­fit, Richard­son says. And of those that have, the typ­i­cal pro­gram pro­duces read­ing gains for 3 chil­dren out of 100.

HELPS im­proves flu­ency and com­pre­hen­sion for 35 out of 100 par­tic­i­pants, based on rig­or­ous com­par­i­son stud­ies, Richard­son said. The pro­gram trains teach­ers and tu­tors to read with in­di­vid­ual


stu­dents in 10- to 15-minute ses­sions in ways that help the stu­dents get more con­fi­dent and com­fort­able with read­ing.

Read Char­lotte is work­ing with CMS to get HELPS into 11 schools this year. Vol­un­teers, who get three hours of train­ing and are asked to com­mit one hour a week, are ur­gently needed. Sign up at read­char­


None of these strate­gies should be ex­pected to work mir­a­cles. Groups have handed out books, vol­un­teers have read with kids and districts across North Carolina have cy­cled through read­ing pro­grams for years.

State leg­is­la­tors have pumped more than $150 mil­lion into Read To Achieve, a pro­gram that fo­cuses on test­ing third­graders and re­tain­ing those who can’t read at grade level. Five years in, they have lit­tle to show for it.

Richard­son says these pro­grams are part of a larger strat­egy that has to in­clude ev­ery­thing from ex­panded pub­lic prekinder­garten to bet­ter sup­port for fam­i­lies.

Le­ora Itzhaki, prin­ci­pal of Mont­claire Ele­men­tary, has been with CMS long enough to see lots of read­ing pro­grams launched and dis­carded. She and her lit­er­acy fa­cil­i­ta­tor, Katie Fazio, say they’re op­ti­mistic about HELPS read­ing be­cause it’s so care­fully re­searched and scripted. It’s also funded by a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion to keep costs low, rather than mar­keted by a for-profit com­pany.

Mont­claire, where many of the stu­dents come from Span­ish-speak­ing fam­i­lies, has 21 third-graders tak­ing part in HELPS. On a re­cent morn­ing they trooped in and out of a mo­bile class­room, where vol­un­teers had them read a timed pas­sage, check their speed and ac­cu­racy, had them re-read any sec­tions they had trou­ble with, read aloud to their stu­dents and tried again to see whether they had got­ten faster and more ac­cu­rate.

In some ways it was

PHO­TOS BY DIEDRA LAIRD [email protected]­lot­teob­

Al­lis­son Marin, a third-grader, gets help from vol­un­teer in­struc­tor Mary Bow­man at Mont­claire Ele­men­tary dur­ing a read­ing pro­gram called HELPS.

Os­car Garay, a third-grader, gets help read­ing from vol­un­teer in­struc­tor Kim McGirt at Mont­claire Ele­men­tary’s HELPS read­ing pro­gram.

DIEDRA LAIRD [email protected]­lot­teob­

Fa­tima Lazo, a third-grader, gets help from vol­un­teer in­struc­tor Mary Bow­man at Mont­claire Ele­men­tary dur­ing a read­ing pro­gram called HELPS, or Help­ing Early Lit­er­acy with Prac­tice Strate­gies.

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