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Reading First at Gaenslen Elementary

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Gaenslen School is the recipient of a federal Reading First grant. The grant of $103,000 per year for three years is intended to improve reading proficiency in kindergarten through grade 3. Nancy Ulrich, the literacy coach at Gaenslen, says the grant money is being used to purchase a reading program and provide professional development for K–3 teachers. The program, Wright Group Literacy, utilizes five approaches to teaching reading, including phonics. This “bag of tricks” ensures teaching methodology meets the needs of children with many different learning styles. Since literacy includes writing and oral communication, working on these skills is also part of the curriculum known by educators as language arts. Children work on language arts activities a full two hours a day, which should ensure that they are reading, writing, and speaking at the correct grade level when they complete grade 3. Ulrich points out that providing a reading product alone would not be of much value unless the teachers are trained to use the materials. “You can put a product in the room, but that doesn’t mean it will be used optimally,” she said. Staff development has meant that all teachers are teaching the same thing using the same methods. Children benefit from such consistency as they move up through the grades. The curriculum is also aligned with MPS Learning Targets so that if children switch schools, they don’t miss essential skill training and content. “Another focus is on intervention,” Ulrich explained. “The lowest five students in each classroom receive an additional 30 minutes of instruction each day.” Gaenslen has 15 students per teacher in kindergarten through grade 3. Boosting Attendance There is a direct link between student achievement and regular attendance. Franklin Pierce Elementary currently has average attendance of 93 percent, but is working to improve. Social worker Norm McClure follows up on children who miss school too often and even makes house calls. An incentive program encourages individuals and classes to aim at perfect attendance. Other goals for this year include improving writing skills and heading off disciplinary problems. The playground has organized activities, which teach teamwork and social skills. Volunteer Extraordinaire With four children and a part-time job, Rose Marie Robles could easily say she’s too busy to volunteer even an hour a week, but that’s not her style. Rose, as the kids fondly call her, has spent three days a week for the past 12 years volunteering at Gaenslen School, where her youngest daughter is in fifth grade. Most of Robles’ time is spent in the fourth grade classroom helping teacher Cora Hall, who she says has become a good friend. She also helps with other tasks around the school, such as running copies, assisting in the art classes, or chaperoning field trips. When asked if she ever thought of applying for a job as a classroom aide, Robles explained that it wouldn’t be the same. “If you are working for them, they can move you where they want to. I already have a job that I like. As a volunteer, I can do what I want and help who I want.” Robles chastises parents who say they don’t have time to go to the schools. “A lot of them are not working. They are staying home watching TV…. There are not enough parents who really want to help their kids.” Gaenslen is not the only school with dedicated volunteers. Hopkins Street’s parent coordinator reports she has a young mother who is between jobs and comes every day. Dr. Martin Luther King’s principal reports she has five or six regular volunteers coming at some time during the week. You do not have to be a parent to volunteer in the schools, but may be subject to a criminal background check.