Photo: Local school administrators and teachers gather for a photo during the Glencoe Elementary School Summer Literacy Camp. Pictured, from left: April Daugherty, GES reading coach; Tiffany Scott, Etowah County Board of Education federal programs director; Dr. Alan Cosby, Etowah County Board of Education superintendent; Dr. Cynthia McCarty, state board of education district 6 representative; Laura Sims, GES principal; Scarlett Farley, Etowah County Board of Education place 2 representative. (Submitted photo.)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
In a June 9 resolution, the Alabama State Board of Education named Glencoe Elementary School a Science of Reading Spotlight School.
Glencoe Elementary was one of 12 schools recognized as 2022-2023 Spotlight Schools.
Schools were selected based on their “strong commitment to Alabama’s K-3 learners,” the resolution read.
“I’m very proud of our teachers for that,” said GES principal Laura Sims. “Obviously all of this is for the benefit of our children, and we’re so excited that this is happening. But the fact (is) that the teachers here are willing to go above and beyond to serve their students. They’re dedicated, they’re committed, they want to see success with their kids.”
In a U.S. News & World Report 2021 analysis, GES students showed a 57 percent reading proficiency, higher than the district and state averages at 56 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
“These (selected) schools have demonstrated reading growth in their third-grade outcome data that exceeds the average third-grade reading growth of the state of Alabama,” the resolution read.
Sims explained that GES was chosen both for its “large gain” in third-grade reading outcomes since 2019 and for its hands-on programs and participation from the teachers — both inside and outside the classroom.
“We ensured that our teachers participated in the Science of Reading, and that is programs such as LETRS, which stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling,” Sims said.
A two-year certification program, LETRS is conducted as professional development for instructors outside of the classroom, and sometimes outside school hours.
“Right now, we have 75 percent of our K-3 teachers that have completed the program,” Sims said. “That shows their commitment and dedication. Also, 100 percent of them are in the process, so that means we have a couple of teachers that are still working on it.”
The more instructors can learn about the process of reading itself, Sims noted, the more effectively they can teach it.
“It makes more sense to them,” she said. “The teachers understand through LETRS the history or the reason behind (the methods). And because they know the reason, the students are gaining that knowledge. It’s not ‘just because’ anymore; they actually understand why.”
While LETRS is a state-sponsored Science of Reading program, Sims said that GES employs several programs of its own, like the Orton-Gillingham approach.
“Orton-Gillingham programs are based for students with dyslexia or that have dyslexia tendencies,” she said. “These are strategies that work for everyone, but they also help those children specifically.”
The program involves hands-on learning and instruction, including not just auditory and visual, but tactile elements.
“We use multi-sensory (instruction),” Sims said. “They’re using movement along with sound when they do things so that students have that muscle memory. That is what we have seen (to be) the key.”
Glencoe Elementary students use “blending boards” and sand trays when learning to write letters. Teachers show the students what shapes to form in the sand while having them repeat the corresponding phonetic sounds.
“The students seem to be more excited,” Sims said. “They are engaged in their lessons, and like I said, there’s a lot of movement. They’re not just sitting at a desk. There’s a lot of tactile (activities), where they feel different things. Because of that, it sticks.”
One of the school’s main reading programs is its Summer Literacy Camp, which is in session for five weeks of summer from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Thursday. Camp attendees can be any K-3 students who fall below benchmark reading scores. According to Sims, however, student selection is “not just cut and dry by an assessment score.” Glencoe faculty use teacher recommendations to “look at the whole child” and ensure no student slips through the cracks.
“The basis for [literacy camp] is for students to prevent that ‘summer slide’ that we all have,” she said. “These students that are in our literacy camp, they will not have such a deficit when the upcoming school year happens. We shorten that gap. We help them become stronger readers.”
The multi-sensory strategies used at GES, Sims noted, have shown both improved testing outcomes and more confident students.
“You can see that in their work, you can see that when they enter the building,” she said. “And that’s what’s important, is how the whole child feels. We want them to be prepared academically. But if you help the entire child, you’re going to see that growth regardless.”
Teachers at Glencoe Elementary employ other tools such as Heggerty Phonemic Awareness. They also solicit help from the school’s reading coach to help their students gain the fundamentals of literacy.
“It’s like a tool kit,” Sims said. “Each child has different tools they need to make it click, and when that happens, the world opens up for them. I’m glad that we get to be a part of that.”