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Early reading focus mirrors work of school district

Nanaimo educators are excited about the province's plans to focus on early reading for the upcoming year.

Nanaimo educators are excited about the province's plans to focus on early reading for the upcoming year.

Education Minister George Abbott recently sent out a mass e-mail to all B.C. teachers that informed them the province is making reading in kindergarten to Grade 3 a primary focus for the school year.

In the e-mail, a link to a discussion paper on the reading focus announced the appointment of a superintendent for reading to work with districts to identify how best to use $10.7 million in funding earmarked earlier this year for Education Plan initiatives. Nanaimo's portion is about $271,000.

Shelley Beleznay, Nanaimo school district's coordinator of literacy and learning, is excited about the focus given that she just wrapped up a pilot project with Grade 2 teachers in five schools this year that boosted students' literacy levels and hoped to continue the work in the fall.

"It mirrors almost identically what we were doing last year with the Grade 2 project," she said.

The literacy initiative got teachers from the five schools together to talk about best practices and strategies to get kids reading more. By the end of the year, struggling students were meeting expectations for their grade level.

Beleznay said the new funding will allow for teacher collaboration on a provincial level – a much more massive partnership than the five-school collaboration Nanaimo school district accomplished last year.

"Teaching is so isolating just by virtue of the way we work – 30 kids and one teacher in a closed environment," she said. "Reading is so complex. Every teacher needs that support to maximize the possibilities for each child. As far as we know, [reading] is the open door for everything."

The mass e-mail also came as a surprise to Beleznay, who doesn't remember ever receiving anything directly from the minister before.

In 2010, then-Premier Gordon Campbell promised that every Grade 4 student would be reading at grade level within five years.

The discussion paper reminds teachers that this goal is still on the radar even though talk has shifted to bringing more technology, flexibility and personalized learning to the education system.

"We could never expect students to succeed in even the most flexible, personalized and engaging environment if they cannot read," states the paper. "Arguably a foundation of strong reading is even more important in a personalized learning environment and in preparing students for life in a knowledge-based world."

Beleznay and Laura Tait, the district's principal of aboriginal education, will attend a provincial meeting in August to discuss the early reading focus.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the decision to spend the Education Plan funds on early reading is a good place to start.

"If you can't read, you have little chance of advancing," he said. "This is not a revelation. It's something districts have known and tried to attend to for a number of years."