Early learners pointed towards reading success as Sprauve School adopts national reading program

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Pictured above: Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School Program educator Tracey Maish dresses up in character before sharing a story with students in the summer pilot program held at the Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay. The six week program ends today, August 5.

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CRUZ BAY — Summer school is winding up at the Julius E. Sprauve School for 19 students, grades K-3. They, along with their instructors, were part of a territory-wide pilot project designed to increase reading proficiency.

The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School program has helped thousand of children and youth across the United States since 1973. It made its way into the Virgin Islands at the invitation of Lieutenant Governor Osbert Potter, after he met CDF founder and President Marian Wright Edelman.

CDF Freedom School’s goal is to make sure children read well and at grade level by the time they reach third grade. At an April 12 press conference, Potter cited research from the annual Kids Count report.

The report is sponsored nationally by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It says children who reach fourth grade without the proper reading level are more likely to wind up dropping out of school and have a lower likelihood of succeeding as adults.

Of the five public schools chosen to promote better reading in early childhood, Julius E. Sprauve School is leading the effort on St. John. It’s doing so with help from First Grade teacher Tracey Maish, a former language arts teacher from Gifft Hill School.

Tradewinds stopped in on Maish’s classroom at the end of the six week summer reading program. A partial transcript of her comments is featured in this story:

Maish:  I am very, very, very adamant about helping our struggling readers find and achieve success. And this program is perfect for it. We had a little gentleman ask me this Friday, “Miss Maish, when are we going to start learning and doing work?”  And I said, “But Honey, we have been doing it all summer. Look around you. He didn’t even realize that he had been doing all this work. And it’s really not work. It’s fun, engaging activities they do that go along with all of our integrated reading curriculum that they sent down these books for us. We take the books, and we do these activities in the morning, with the books, as well as carry on in the afternoon with cooking and baking and parades and all the fun things we’ve been doing this summer.

TW: So, based on your understanding of the program, in order for you to be the site coordinator, I know you had to undergo some training. Based on what you learned in the training, how does that translate into the parades, and baking and activities that come out of the books?

Maish: We did an intensive training in Tennessee. It’s called the Ella Baker Training. It was at the Hailey Farm. It was an amazing historical site we got to be on. The things that we learned in the training, as a first grade teacher I was like, “My Gosh!” I’ve been doing a lot of that stuff in my classroom but I learned a lot more skills that help engage and grab struggling readers, children who hate to pick up a book. We learned how to get them engaged and grab a book. We have a lot of cheers and chants and songs. We make the book come alive.

A lot of activities we do during the summer, we do through an integrated reading curriculum they taught us in training to engage the children in a different way, where they are more excited about learning. And they are engaged with the books they read.

They have ideas that come up for activities that they come up with on their own. We don’t want them not participating, so if we have activities planned but they come up and say, “Guess what we can do with this book,” we grab that too. They’re learning as well. If they’re engaged in their own ideas, from what they have learned in what we have been trained to do, it is fabulous. It’s not just what we have learned. Some of the children have their own ideas about what they want to do, what they have learned from the book. We don’t ever try to let their enthusiasm or their imagination be stifled.

TW: That is so cool. How long have you been a first grade teacher?

Maish: I have been a first grade teacher here at Sprauve, starting my third year. And I was a fourth and fifth grade language arts teacher and Social Studies teacher at Gifft Hill School for a year and a half.

TW: I noticed one of the things you said was that you’re working with the students who are struggling to read.

Maish: Not all.

TW: So I think that based on your experience, there are different types of readers in the first grade.

Maish: There are.

TW: What types of readers have you got?

Maish: We have a caveat of different readers. We have the higher, above grade level and we have the struggling. I call them struggling. I don’t like to call them below level because that’s a stigma, in my opinion. I’m like, ‘You’re struggling a little bit. What can we do to help get you back on board?’ We have all different types. We have engaging read out-louds. We allow guests to come in. I’m a character person, too. I’ll dress up as a character I’m reading. I have a picture, if you want to see it. I like to make the kids think they can do anything, and be anything and accomplish anything.

Maish also said she was impressed by how many people, including incarcerated youth, have benefitted from the CDF Freedom School program.

The organization’s website states: “By providing summer and after-school reading enrichment for children who might otherwise not have access to books, the CDF Freedom Schools program plays a much needed role in helping to curb summer reading loss and close the achievement gap.”

Another, better known program also reaches for that goal. The Governor’s Summer Reading Program encourages students to read at least five books over the summer recess.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp adopted the program from his predecessor, former Gov. John de Jongh, lending his sponsorship to the Summer Reading Program now in its eighth consecutive year.

Every Friday, children enrolled in CDF Freedom School receive books to take home as a start of their personal home libraries.

The Claude O. Markoe School and Juanita Guardine School on St. Croix, and the Lockhart Elementary School and Ulla Muller Elementary School on St. Thomas, spent their summer working with early learners as part of this year’s pilot program.