Reading beyond barriers

(Left) Students honed their reading and writing skills at Pineville Elementary’s Read to Achieve summer camps. (Center) Danielle Gostomski helps a rising fourth-grader with reading as part of North Carolina’s Read to Achieve legislation standards. (Right) Students at Pineville Elementary experienced an hour of technology use each day at the school’s Extended Learning Program. Courtney Schultz/PP photo

(Left) Students honed their reading and writing skills at Pineville Elementary’s Read to Achieve summer camps. (Center) Danielle Gostomski helps a rising fourth-grader with reading as part of North Carolina’s Read to Achieve legislation standards. (Right) Students at Pineville Elementary experienced an hour of technology use each day at the school’s Extended Learning Program. Courtney Schultz/PP photos

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools educators have stepped up to ensure elementary students become proficient readers at their appropriate grade levels, using the summer months to make it happen. 

The North Carolina General Assembly passed the Excellent Public Schools Act in 2012, which included Read to Achieve legislation that prompted 20 CMS schools to host summer camps to ensure proficiency in reading and prepare students for the next grade. CMS is one of the few school systems to offer the Extended Learning Program to rising first- through fourth-graders. 

According to the law, students must become proficient readers by the end of the third grade or they cannot proceed to the next grade. The law outlines reading requirements for elementary students and describes what schools should do to assist all children in reaching proficiency, including the Read to Achieve summer camp. The summer camp must be at least three weeks long with at least 72 hours of literacy instruction.

“These camps were designed for students who were falling behind in literacy in their grades,” Chuck Nusinoz, executive director of teaching and learning at CMS, said. He feels the intent of the legislation is “stellar” and reflects necessary changes for the educational system.

“If children are not reading at grade-level by third grade, research has shown they will never read on grade-level,” he said. 

CMS had more than 11,000 rising third-graders at the end of the school year, with more than 80 percent of them at grade-level reading proficiency. Nuzinoz said the system asked about 1,900 to take summer camps.

CMS hopes any child who comes to the program will ultimately be engaged and proficient in grade-level skills and learning by the fourth grade, Nusinoz said. 

Of the 20 CMS schools with camps, Pineville Elementary accommodates more than 400 students from six schools as well as a few magnet school students at their site. The school has four Read-to-Achieve classrooms with 17 rising first- through third-grade classes. 

Erin Alessi, the literary facilitator at Pineville Elementary, said the six-week program includes reading, writing, science, math and technology programs, such as “Raz-Kids,” “DreamBox” and “Being a Writer.” The students are given at least an hour of technology each day. 

Alessi believes it’s important to reach students who may have trouble learning before they reach the third grade. 

“It is a preventative measure,” she said. “Instead of waiting until the third grade to solve (reading) problems, we give them the push early.”

Michelle Bitter, a literary facilitator at Pineville Elementary, was impressed by the instructional kits the district provided the teachers for the summer programs, adding the teachers were given appropriate lesson plans by the district to accommodate the necessary needs of the students. 

“If done right and over time, we can see some growth,” Bitter said. “We need them to be competent readers.” 

Bitter said the school wants to prevent “summer slide,” where students regress in their academic skills over the summer because of lack of exposure to educational materials. Students who already have trouble are more likely to fall back in their skill set over the summer, Bitter added. 

Pineville Elementary also hosts Camp Invention, a nationally recognized, non-profit elementary enrichment program backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame that provides activities related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Rising fourth-graders are encouraged to explore past inventions in the weeklong program as well as brainstorm and create their own. Educators at Pineville Elementary hope the program is another way to help diminish summer slide as well as provide an opportunity for students to expand their minds.

Find more information about Read to Achieve at www.cms.k12.nc.us/parents/Pages/ReadtoAchieve.aspx

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Courtney Schultz

About Courtney Schultz

Courtney Schultz is a recent college graduate from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. She has both a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Political Science. At Campbell, she was the editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper for nearly three years and worked for the Siskey YMCA in their membership services and marketing department. She mostly covers education news for the Matthews, Mint-Hill, and greater Charlotte areas.

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