Grant helps Discovery Elementary School repurpose space into popular reading room

November 15, 2011

By Christopher Huber

If it weren’t for the “Marvin Redpost” series, a bunch of fourth-grade boys at Discovery Elementary School might not be so into reading this school year.

And if it weren’t for a staff member’s vision and nearly $30,000 from the PTA, the school might not even have that book series by Louis Sachar in its selection. Discovery opened its new literacy room this fall. It’s a “re-purposed” former art room and storage space that now offers nearly 1,000 different book sets at varying reading levels for the entire school population. The point is to expand options for teachers as they work with students, each of whom has a different focus or need in their reading development, teachers and staff members said. The school is on the leading edge of the Issaquah School District’s efforts to overhaul its reading curriculum.

“Now it’s become more purposeful,” said Chelsea Dziedzic, literacy support coach for Discovery and Challenger elementary schools. “Discovery and district teachers realized one-size-fits-all does not work and doesn’t foster a love of reading.”

The “Marvin Redpost” books were such a big deal to the boys because they previously read from a limited selection of kids’ books at their level, and many of those catered to girls’ interest, said Vickie Pruger and Dziedzic, who staff the new literacy room. “Marvin Redpost” sparked their interest last spring as third-graders and as fourth-graders, and they seem to be more engaged in reading than ever before.

“They were really interested in reading,” said Pruger, a Discovery reading specialist and kindergarten teacher.

The room is a little smaller than a standard elementary school classroom but is organized to provide quick, easy access for teachers as they determine a suitable book to study with small groups of students. Labeled file boxes filled with sets of six books each line shelves and cupboards. They range from reading level “A” — kindergarten — to “Z” — eighth grade.

“This is a fabulous use of resources for teachers,” longtime first-grade teacher Patty Britt said. “It’s so well organized. This helps us to do a better job.”

Dziedzic and Pruger, who developed the literacy room plan for a year, said the selection is a huge expansion from the ad-hoc collections most teachers maintained in their own classrooms. It helps teachers target more specific concepts, and at more varied difficulties, while teaching literacy.

Dziedzic and Pruger knew the program — it’s entirely supplemental to the district’s reading curriculum — would cost a lot. But when the PTA forecast a $15,000 budget surplus in the spring, members and teachers got together to raise another roughly $13,000 from the community to order the plethora of new reading materials, PTA president Debbie Evdemon said. As a whole, the Discovery staff signed on to use all of the PTA funds for that cause, rather than apply for individual classroom grants.

“We have a very generous community of parents,” Evdemon said. “If children can’t read, they can’t understand science, math…”

Dziedzic and Britt seemed excited about the implications for Discovery students now and for future programs districtwide. They are already seeing a positive change in students’ interest in reading, they said — something they hope students around the district will experience soon, too.

“Discovery saw a need before the district did,” Dziedzic said. “When they find a high interest at their level, there’s nowhere they can go but up.”

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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