Sept. 9, 2020 -- We’ve all heard the saying that parents are a child’s first – and perhaps most important – teachers. Heights Schools hope to take advantage of that fact by training the parents and caregivers of the district’s young students to reinforce literacy strategies at home.
CH-UH has partnered with the Springboard Collaborative, a national organization whose motto is “Closing the literacy gap by closing the gap between home and school” to offer a five-week summer program for students and their families.
According to Director of Curriculum and Instruction Bob Swaggard, the main purpose of this first year’s initiative was to increase parent engagement over the summer and slow the educational phenomena known as “summer slide,” where students lose a portion of their academic skills over the summer months.
Planning had been in the works for months before the coronavirus pandemic forced everyone into remote learning. But the program was dynamic enough to adapt and so the elementary schools’ literacy teams carried on.
Each building identified students in last year’s kindergarten through 3rd grade classes who would benefit from some extra reading help, reached out to their families and offered them a spot in their online summer reading program. Mr. Swaggard is “really excited. We’re building capacity in parents to be literacy coaches using the same intervention strategies as our teachers.”
Tammy Bishko, the Instructional Coach at Gearity Professional Development School, oversaw the summer program, which enrolled 80 families for five weeks plus one week of outreach and introductions. Teachers from each elementary building were assigned fifteen students and their primary caregiver. Every week, caregivers would gather online to learn a new instructional strategy. These hour-long sessions included everything from how to make personal connections to a text to how to building phonemic awareness through decoding to identifying the main features of a story (“Somebody wanted … but … so … then …”).
Following the parent lessons, each student would have a half-hour session to work one-on-one with the teacher on their individual goal for the week. Once the intense planning stages were complete, teachers really enjoyed the program. According to Ms. Bishko, they realized that “30 minutes goes by quickly, but it’s very powerful to have that one-to-one time together.”
She recounts one parent who was concerned about their son’s shyness, but he ended up thriving. “It was such a safe place for students to take risks and try new strategies without worrying about making mistakes.”
The ability to connect with parents and arm them with doable, manageable ways to help their children at home is bound to have a great impact on reading achievement. Not only will they benefit from the immediate attention, but parents can use these same strategies as children grow or with other kids in the home. Ms. Bishko and Mr. Swaggard both hope to offer the program again next summer.