Summer lessons

Posted: Friday, June 25, 2004

Read silently.

Read and write.

Read and respond.

The daily class schedules scrawled on the blackboards at Redoubt Elementary School on Thursday left no question about what students at the school are doing this month.

Though classes officially ended back in May, about 400 students across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District including nearly 90 at Redoubt Elementary are participating in four weeks of summer school this month. The focus: reading.

"We really want to get those reading skills nailed down," said Paula Christensen, the district's director of elementary education.

Christensen explained that the district has been offering growing summer programs for the last several years, with teachers and administrators identifying students in need of extra instruction and inviting those students to participate in summer school. Students who ask for extra help also are invited to attend.

"We have really worked over the last three years at getting (the program) standardized (from school to school) and really measuring results," she said. "In the last two years, we've seen significant increases in reading and math scores."

Classes for students in kindergarten through sixth grade focus exclusively on reading, while students in grades seven through 12 get help in both reading and math, she said.

At Redoubt Elementary School, one of eight summer school sites open to students districtwide, the reading skills intervention takes many forms. Throughout the day, upper-elementary students may read a novel in a small group, use computer games and programs to develop particular literacy skills or work one-on-one with a teacher or aide practicing their reading out loud.

Part of the key to the program is individualized instruction, said John Harro, the lead teacher at Redoubt.

The 86 students in Redoubt's summer school program are being taught by 13 teachers and five aides; that means there's one adult for every four to five students.

"It's really nice as a regular teacher," Harro said. "We never have that opportunity. It makes interactions with kids really nice."

It also means the kids are virtually guaranteed to get the help they need.

Thursday morning, for example, Harro's class of three sixth-grade boys sat at PCs in the computer lab, testing reading-based games. The adventure-style game required the boys to take separate words and put them into sentences providing instructions for the next level. In the meantime, another group of students worked on "Read Naturally," a Web-based program that provides students with a short passage to read and a series of questions to test their comprehension.

The program isn't all computer-based, though. Harro's students also are reading "The Island of the Blue Dolphin" and "Danger on Thunder Mountain," two novels Harro said are "high interest" stories. Harro also provides some "hook" activities to keep the kids interested in their studies. For example, he said, his small class made survival kits, airplanes and kites using the instructions as a reading lesson, of course as added "fun lessons."

"The big battle at this age is just to keep them coming," Harro said, explaining that the older kids get, the harder it can be to keep them involved in the necessary remedial instruction.

Indeed, Christensen said there are far more elementary students in the district's summer program than middle- and high-schoolers.

Still, she said, the district and families seem to be happy with the program.

"We're always looking for ways to improve next year," she said. "But we feel really good about (the program). It's very successful."

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