While most children and teachers enjoy summer vacation, others are still hard at work.
This month the parking lot at Soldotna Elementary School remains full because of a special program. For the second year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is holding two summer literacy institutes at the school.
The institutes are unusual because most of the adults involved play dual roles as both teachers and students. At the same time the children are boosting their literacy skills, the teachers are learning better ways to coach beginning readers and writers.
"We hope it makes a difference for the teachers, that when they go back to the classroom they teach differently and more effectively," said Carol VanDerWege, the districtwide reading specialist who organized the institute.
Elementary school teachers study the latest education research and techniques with coaches who are reading specialists. The teachers immediately try out the new information during tutoring sessions with children who need extra help. The coaches observe the interactions, then review them with the teachers later.
"Teachers need to be lifelong learners," VanDerWege said.
The entire program ties in with the district's goal of having all children master reading by the time they finish primary school.
The first two-week session, the Primary Reading Institute, finished Friday. This year, 25 teachers and 50 students, due to enter grades two, three or four, took part. The heart of the institute was time for teachers to tutor students, one on one.
The second two-week session began Monday with 15 teachers and 30 children going into grades five through eight. The teachers will work with students in pairs.
When the enrolled teachers are meeting with their coaches, the children are with other teachers taking classes in art, dance, writing, computers and physical education.
All ages are enthusiastic about the institute's results.
Tabetha Aldridge, who will begin fourth grade at Soldotna Elementary this fall, said that in summer school she has gotten to know her teacher, overcome her shyness and become convinced she can read.
"I learned that you can read better if you sound out and do things instead of just messing around. And I learned that reading is the most specialest thing in the world," she said Friday, as she was getting ready for the graduation ceremony.
Teachers, too, find new perspectives on literacy through the institute.
"It's a wonderful thing," said Lynn Dusek, who teaches second grade at Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna.
"I've taught for 13 years, and I've learned an awful lot."
VanDerWege said the teachers learn to watch children more closely, to analyze students' individual strengths and weaknesses as they grapple to master reading and writing basics and to find approaches tailored help each child advance to higher levels.
The children learn to try out different approaches to decode "hard" words, to understand the content of what they are reading and to analyze their own mistakes.
Results for some children are dramatic: their test scores soar, VanDerWege said.
Despite the positive results, the future of the summer reading institutes is uncertain because of funding issues, she said.
This year, the program is paid for by the federal Title I program, which subsidizes programs for low-income students and their schools. Because of the federal grant program, the institute is free for the children.
Follow-up is important, VanDerWege stressed.
For children to keep the gains made during the two-week session, families need to commit to encouraging the student to keep reading throughout the summer, she said.
Teachers can take a subsequent university course that helps them work the literacy teaching tips into the complex schedule of a full classroom.
"The larger the class size is, the harder it is to do that," she said.
VanDerWege said even without the second course, teachers reported back that the institute last year enriched their classrooms. Although there is not yet a concrete way to evaluate the changes, the teachers who participated seem to use more reading strategies with their children.
Students and teachers are enjoying the time to sit down together with fun books, and both are blooming with the program, she said.
"It is such as exciting place to be," she said.
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