Elementary grade-level reading program debuts

A new program created to help struggling first-grade students read on grade-level will start at three Sarasota County elementary schools this year.

Atwater Elementary and Cranberry Elementary in North Port and Tuttle Elementary in Sarasota will pilot the Reading Recovery Program this fall.

The program consists of intensive one-on-one lessons that last about 30 minutes each day with trained literacy teachers. Each lesson is customized to the student’s needs and complements their classroom learning. The interventions last between 12 and 20 weeks, or end when a student is reading and writing at the same level as their peers.

Laura Kingsley, executive director of elementary schools for the district, said 75 percent of the first-graders who go through the program never need remediation again.

“We’re not putting a Band-Aid on the students struggling by third grade,” Kingsley said. “We’re arming these kids with knee pads and helmets so they won’t need remediation in third grade.”

Funding for the program came from Keith and Linda Monda, who contributed $100,000; the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, which also donated $100,000; and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which contributed some money and is working as the program’s fiscal agent.

That money will fund a teacher leader who will go to Ohio State University for training and in turn train local teachers to administer the interventions. A retired Ohio State professor who worked with the initiative is also helping with the local program after he retired in Sarasota, Kingsley said.

The program is part of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national initiative that aims to increase the number of students reading proficiently by the time they leave third grade. Both Sarasota and Manatee counties have joined the initiative.

In Sarasota, a task force seeking to close the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers presented recommendations to the Sarasota County School Board in August. The Reading Recovery program was among the ideas considered.

Cranberry Elementary principal Kirk Hutchinson estimated about 16 students at his school will be part of the program this year. Teachers are working to identify struggling students now.

“The students we’re working with are ones who have historically struggled in school,” Hutchinson said. “We have the opportunity to achieve grade-level reading success and offer additional opportunities to bring lasting change to the academic and social development of first-graders.”

― Contributed by Shelby Webb