If someone asked a class of Fairview Community School students about reading four years ago, they didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it.
Now, Jessica Dewarle, literacy coordinator, says students are eating up books like they’ve been brought a box of candy.
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools launched a ‘focus school’ pilot in four elementaries in 2014, supplying supports like literacy coordinators and full-time principals to help improve children’s literacy.
The district intends to expand the program to eight more schools next year.
According to assistant superintendent Laura Tait, the focus is on early years and reading because it has a huge impact on life opportunities. She hopes to see children reading at grade level by the time they reach grade four and wants a solid plan in place for those who don’t, as well as increased grad rates.
So far, it is working and reading rates are increasing, which is the motivation for expansion, she said.
“I am so proud of the four schools and all that they’ve done. These teachers, they are in this deep and they are committed and they are supported and their doors are wide open and they are transparent all the time. It’s not always been like that,” she said.
Tait said she’d love to have every single school have the supports and resources, and the district could get to that point, but it doesn’t have that money right now.
Fairview elementary principal Jane Kruks told the News Bulletin the pilot was an opportunity to build a safe, caring community and a culture where reading was not only valued, but supported.
Staff looked at common values and beliefs on reading and research on good literacy instruction and learned what was being done wasn’t the most effective and could be changed, she said.
Children now get one-on-one support and a reading specialist and teacher listen to them read, see how they understand stories and what strategies they use when they get stuck. The two adults also problem solve together if a child isn’t making progress.
Dewarle said it’s letting the child inform what needs to be taught, and it’s about using great books to teach reading. The hope is to give kids a love of books because the school wants to see them access books at the public library and continue reading outside of school because they know it impacts lives in powerful ways, she said.
The school invested money in getting more books, scrapped a policy that didn’t allow students to take books home, and started to match students with ‘good fit’ books they wanted to read and could read.
“We’ve established this book-loving culture,” Dewarle said.
The pilot also included Bayview, Brechin and Georgia schools. New focus schools include: Park Avenue, Forest Park, Cilaire, Rock City, North Oyster, Ladysmith Intermediate, Seaview and Chase River. The cost of expansion is part of a $2.4-million addition to the budget pitched by the district’s learning services department.