Saturday, June 22, 2024

Local schools find novel solutions for reading

Elementaries get creative to promote student reading


AZLE — There is nothing better than curling up with a good book, but based on recent trends, young people may be shelving this habit.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics reading scores have declined at all selected percentiles since 2020 and the shares of American 9 and 13-year-olds who say they read for fun every day has dropped to its lowest levels since at least the mid-1980s. In June 2022, the organization found public schools, on average, reported that 50% of students were behind grade level.

In Azle ISD teachers, administrators, and staff have been working hard on novel concepts to encourage their students to read.

Walnut Creek

With inspiration from other schools and help from the Azle Education Foundation, Walnut Creek Elementary has created a space that combines the mental benefits of reading with the physical benefits of being outdoors.

“The original idea for the reading garden came about from a Walnut Creek teacher,” Azle ISD Executive Director of Educational Leadership Jessica Hanson said. “The teacher sent me a post from another school's social media post that already had an established reading garden. When she sent me the post, I said, ‘this needs to be our next grant submission for the Azle Education Foundation!’ The AEF does amazing work for our students and teachers. We were so honored to be chosen by the Azle Education Foundation to make this innovative idea come to life!”

The garden is open to any class and visitors to the school’s library at any time, weather permitting. Its central feature is 18 Hornet-green hammocks where students can relax and soak up some sun while also getting some quality reading time. Administrators see this space as a great way to promote reading and positively contribute to students’ health.

“It is an extra special time for students to get to go out there and read,” Hanson said. “They are very excited to do that. We don’t spend enough time outside using our spaces to creatively address the curriculum areas. This is just another way to do that. Being outside in the sunshine gives us our dose of Vitamin D we need. There have been studies on how Vitamin D helps with not only medical health, like strong bones, but also mental health as well. So many of our kids spend their days inside playing video games or watching TV. Anytime we can take advantage of the sunshine is a good time!”

Silver Creek

Instead of letting its library’s shelves sag under the weight of unread stories over the summer, Silver Creek Elementary students have been given a chance to build up their own personal collections at home. Through good behavior, showing kindness, respect and meeting academic expectations, students can earn tokens to exchange at Inchy the Bookworm Vending Machines.

“Administration wanted to find a way to continue to build on the excitement of reading and grow our literacy skills,” Principal Aubri Deheck said. “At Silver Creek, we make decisions for what's best for our kids while instilling a growth mindset! The vending machine serves and shows our school the importance of books — especially being able to grow our students' home libraries.”

The school surveyed pre-K to fourth grade students about their favorite scholastic books and placed the most popular results in the machine. Before being added, every book is vetted by staff to ensure it’s appropriate for all age groups at the school.

“Every teacher has bought in and really enjoys using this for positive reinforcement when needing to recognize their kids,” Deheck said. “We are building leaders here and this has been a great tool to support our mission. It's brought a BOOM of excitement into our classrooms. Students understand the tokens are earned and that it's a big celebration when they earn one.”

Deheck hopes every Silver Creek student will be able to take home a book by the end of the year. In doing this, administrators want to give students a chance to continue building reading skills over the summer and during other down time, fostering a love of reading and furthering good behaviors and the mission of Silver Creek Elementary School.

Eagle Heights

Another example at Eagle Heights Elementary exemplifies the district’s motto — “it makes a difference to this one.”

The school’s custodians will sometimes allow students to accompany them on their rounds as a reward for good deeds or for finishing tasks. What is work for some can, apparently, be a fun excursion for others. Serra Holt has been Eagle Heights’ lead custodian for four years and this year also took on the role of regular reading partner for one preschool student, Courtney.

“She was having a bad day one day and I was like, ‘does she want to go take a walk?’” Holt asked. “So, we went for a walk and stopped at the library and found some books. She likes to read books, so, it kind of became a daily thing.”

Since she began reading with Courtney, Holt said the student has been having more good days, is better adjusting to the school routine, and is diving deeper into her love of reading.

“It seems to help her get going with her mornings a little better, she has breakfast then I come and she’s able to get on with her day,” Holt said. “She has some days that are more difficult coming into school and it’s just not so much on her all at one time. I can’t handle seeing (students) upset and if I can help in any way to calm them down I will. I feel like all kids need a moment to have a release. They’re human too, just little humans. I love doing it. She gets very happy when I come in. She has multiple books memorized; she can read them without even looking at the words. She’s so smart, she amazes me.”

Holt, a lifelong Azleite and the mother of two current Azle students, reports that even on days when she misses school, other custodians will step up to read with Courtney.

“Honestly, I feel like Eagle Heights is a big family and everybody helps out where everybody can, like if we’re short-staffed a teacher will help,” Holt said. “If I see a teacher that needs somebody to watch her class for a second, I’ll step in, but it just feels like home.”

When working with children, the custodian’s biggest piece of advice is to have patience.

The school’s Principal Shelly Newton was not aware that Holt had been reading to Courtney until she walked into the library and saw them one day. Newton sees Holt’s actions as an essential part of what makes Eagle Heights and schools across Azle remain successful in educating future generations.

“That’s what we’re all here for, right, is to promote the growth and well-being of all students so that means custodians are reading to kids then that’s just part of it,” Newton said. “We’re proud of Serra and all the staff and everything everybody does.”