More than a dozen parents, other adults, and students -- acting on the theme "Would you know how to teach a child to read?" -- demonstrated how to help second graders learn to read today [Wednesday, February 21] during a press conference at Forest Knolls Elementary School to announce the expansion of a unique international reading program in Montgomery County.
Designed to help struggling students achieve reading fluency and comprehension, the new initiative is based on the Yachad tutoring program successfully established over the past 18 years in Israeli schools.
"The key is being able to help children be excited about reading," said Board of Education President Nancy J. King.
The event today announced $1.8 million in Congressionally directed funding to establish, in part, a national demonstration site in Montgomery County for the Reading Together USA program, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Reading experts at the university, together with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, worked collaboratively to adapt the Israeli program for use in the United States.
The local funding for Montgomery County ($400,000 to $450,000) will sponsor the structured teaching of reading by family and volunteer tutors for second graders in the Blair, Einstein, Kennedy, and Wheaton Clusters, and elsewhere. Already, the adult-child tutoring program is being piloted in 25 schools across the county, and another three schools are piloting a similar cross-age program using fifth grade students as the tutors.
In the demonstration today, parents and students from three schools -- Forest Knolls Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, and Mill Creek Towne Elementary -- gave vivid examples of skilled tutoring that can help individual children.
"This program recognizes the value of providing adults and older children with the very specific and structured skills that are necessary to successfully teach a young child to read," said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, who helped sponsor the original version of the program in the United States after visiting Israel as superintendent of the Guilford County Public Schools in North Carolina.
The Montgomery County initiative envisions piloting a Spanish language version of Reading Together USA, expanding it as a summer program, offering it as part of existing Saturday school programs, and using it as an extended day program where more volunteers can focus on the needs of struggling students. Part of the effort will be to create a laboratory of successful practices that can be demonstrated for other school systems nationally.
"Expanding this exciting program in Montgomery County schools will help to improve the reading abilities of struggling students," said Congresswoman Constance Morella, who helped secure the federal funding for the program.
The international source of the original program underscored the need for quality reading instruction worldwide. Aviva Raz Shechter, counselor for public and cultural affairs for the Embassy of Israel, said the program emphasizes the ability of nations to "share ideas and educational projects in order to enlarge the scope of possibilities for our younger generation."
"We are proud that this successful Israeli program will be instrumental in helping our community's youth learn to read," said Rabbi Jack Luxemburg, president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington. "The program reflects the necessity of parental involvement in our children's daily lives and for active volunteer participation in our educational system."
Reading Together USA provides the training necessary for adults to help teach reading skills by tutoring children after school, at home, or in special Saturday school programs. The program is targeted to students who are having difficulty with fluency and comprehension, including students who are English language learners. A goal of the school system is to have all students become independent readers by Grade 3.
The training for parent and other adult tutors involves one three-hour session twice a year (once in both the fall and spring) for the one-to-one tutoring with a second grade student. The focus of the training is on teaching comprehension skills through a structured sequential lesson and modeling good reading using high quality authentic literature for the "read aloud" tutoring segment of the lesson. Over the course of the yearlong tutoring program, the goal of the tutor is to move the second grader toward independent reading using library and media center materials.
The new initiative will supplement and extend current reading programs that target such students in Grade 1, including Reading Recovery and other Title 1 services. All of the reading programs in the county share a common instructional model that encourages students to move from being emergent readers to fluent readers.