MIDDLEPORT — Meigs Primary School may be vacant of young children during the summer, but for three days between June 8-10, the school hosted plenty of students.
“The perception is after the last day of school, teachers are free for three months,” Principal Kristin Baer said. “This is not the case.”
The school’s teachers in kindergarten, first and second grade spent the week attending a professional development course through Wilson Language Training. Instructor Mona Dougherty described the program as phonics- and literacy-based, and intended to give teachers new tools to increase reading, spelling, and comprehension in the English language.
The system, titled “Fundations,” advocates methods much more eventful than simple spelling or reading sessions. Example materials with which students will interact included color-coded word cards, dry erase and magnet boards, games to interpret by phoneme, and word building through syllables.
“There are online counterparts for much of this, so parents will be able to view and participate in the lessons,“ Dougherty told the class.
The system is designed for all types of students (disabled, at risk, on level) and adds cyclical lessons of approximately 45 minutes to the lesson plan. Those focus on the rules and building blocks, or “Fundations,” that underpin the English language.
Baer, who also attended the course, said the teachers were highly involved in the search for the new education tools.
“The staff broke into research teams to learn what was available,’ she said. When the Wilson program caught the attention of the groups, “we visited other schools and saw it in action.”
“Each grade level of teachers — kindergarten through second — will spend a day learning the course and then break off in groups for curriculum mapping,” Baer continued.
Though the program is designed to supplement current reading courses, it can later be combined into a complete system offered through Wilson Language Training. The portion adopted by Meigs Primary School is designed to teach the skills believed to later allow high-level reading, but is also marketed as highly effective for students who struggle under traditional instruction.
In the United States, the latter number is significant.
Dougherty described lack of parental involvement and a general misunderstanding of how learning occurs as major obstacles holding back American students.
She cited a figure, supported by the National Institute of Health, to suggest up to 20 percent of students may have some form of dyslexia.
“Even further, up to one-third of students have a learning disability, reading disability, or some form of what is termed a phonetic awareness barrier,” Dougherty said.
Up-to-date medical definitions and statistics are not typically common knowledge; for example, dyslexia is popularly thought of as a disorder that causes children to mix up letters when spelling or reading. More accurately, dyslexia is anyone with reading difficulties and normal intelligence.
Hearing impairment, ADHD and vision problems can all manifest as learning problems, but their true impact is often overlooked or misinterpreted.
A child struggling in sports may turn away from physical activities — with lifelong health repercussions. A student that is highly challenged in reading can respond similarly.
“We expect kids to pick up these skills instantly, but no skill works like that,” Dougherty said, comparing the Wilsons course with learning to drive a car. “Our first time on the road is a mess, everything is going wrong. Then, after an amount of time, we start to feel comfortable. Now it seems silly how difficult things were at first.
“It takes practice and parental effort,” was the message Dougherty was trying to get across.
“Parents need to read to their kids, and from material up to two levels above their grade,” she said.
Even review over weekends is valuable.
“Duplication is not wasted effort because of the depth of language,” she stated.
The class of teachers agreed, and one added, “We see a sort of Monday hangover in students, from a weekend of no interaction. Being placed in front of a television for two days does not help a child’s reading ability.”
Though helping children is the ultimate goal, Dougherty argues there are real costs attached to early learning problems.
“Eighty-five percent of students entering college need remediation in math or reading. Those classes are $500” at the university level, she said. “Low-achieving students are much more likely to drop out of school. How often”
“(About) 7,000 a day,” answered the teachers without hesitation.
“That is 1.2 million a year in the United States,” Dougherty said.
Nationally, the United States compares unfavorably in education to most developed nations. There is debate at every level in the country how to better serve students, which may soon lead to radical changes in education policy and methods.
Meigs Primary isn’t waiting.
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