Project Initiator: Wayne County Foundation
In 2007, the Wayne County Foundation cosponsored a countywide summit held in Richmond to discuss ways the community could mobilize to improve test scores and graduation rates, among other areas of performance. The keynote speaker who kicked off the summit was Suzanne Morse, president of the Pew Partnership for Civic Change and author of the book Smart Communities. “You don’t have an education problem,” she told the attendees. “You have a community problem.”
She also told them this:
You can tell your high school graduation rate by looking at the reading rate of third graders.
Two retired Richmond businessmen, Vic Jose (pronounced Josie) and Rick Ahaus, decided to start a summer reading program for kids who scored below grade level on the statewide tests. With the support of the foundation, they raised more than $150,000 in contributions of anywhere from $10 to $20,000.
A School Without Walls
The Third Grade Academy is a school without walls. Students themselves choose the sites where they would like to learn. Sessions have been held in a variety of local institutions—the Wayne County Historical Museum, Hayes Arboretum, Earlham College Wellness Center, Indiana University East, and IVY Tech. The teachers tend to tailor their lessons to the setting, so if it is the history museum, history, the wellness center, health.
The academy has day-long classes during four weeks in June, ten students to a room, a teacher and a teaching assistant in each room. The curriculum focuses on reading and writing and helping kids improve their scores on the ITSEP+ Test. Teachers are given latitude, however, to devise their own lesson plans.
The results have been impressive. Students who attended the four-week program have raised their reading scores by as much as 50 percent, but there were also intangible benefits. Students who attended the program were able to discover the joys of learning in a nontraditional classroom environment.
The decision to have a decentralized program made transportation logistics and liability issues a little more complicated, but the founders think it was worth the trouble. Unlike some programs, the kids want to come. Attendance has been consistently higher than that of traditional summer school programs.
The Good Shepherds
Just to make sure the kids would show up, the founders recruited a men’s auxiliary known as the Good Shepherds. They’re on call, and a student doesn’t show up, the literacy assistant calls headquarters and the headquarters calls the Good Shepherds. They make personal contact through the phone first and if there is no answer they go to the work place of the parent.
Word of its success has spread. For instance, two communities in western Canada began to use it as a model for their summer reading programs.
Local Contact: http://everychildcanread.org/