A new elementary school reading program in the North Thurston Public Schools is getting rave reviews from students and teachers.
“Every week, I receive an email from teachers. They love it,” said Karen Johnson, director of English Language Arts, Social Studies and Library Programs for the nearly 14,700-student district. “(And) their students are loving it.”
Thurston County’s largest public school system was one of the first in the region to adopt National Geographic Learning’s Reach for Reading program. The curriculum, which was launched about two years ago, includes colorful textbooks, classroom sets of novels and picture books, like those available at bookstores, National Geographic Explorer magazines, videos and computerized literacy games.
North Thurston classrooms piloted the program during the 2014-15 school year, and spring 2015, the School Board voted to purchase the curriculum for its 13 elementary school classrooms. The district has spent about $1.6 million on the materials, Johnson said.
In August, the district’s reading specialists and National Geographic staff led a four-day Reach for Reading Institute to train teachers, paraeducators, librarians and others about how to use the new materials for students in kindergarten to fifth grade.
“Anyone working in literacy participated in the institute,” Johnson said.
Reach for Reading replaced reading curriculum published by Harcourt.
“It’s been about 17 years since our last reading curriculum adoption, and you can imagine how school and expectations and everything has changed in 17 years,” Johnson said. “It’s very nicely aligned with Common Core State Standards, and what we’re asking students to be accounted for in their learning.”
Common Core State Standards are guidelines about what every student should know and be able to do in math and English from kindergarten through grade 12. So far, 42 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the guidelines. But the learning model is highly controversial and some states already have voted to repeal or replace the standards.
The district’s old materials have been boxed up and are being stored in a warehouse, Johnson said.
“Sometimes, depending on the curriculum, there might be some countries that might need literacy materials,” she said. “We’ll find a good home for the materials, usually.”
Besides fitting in better with Common Core, the district chose the National Geographic program because it is multicultural, Johnson said. North Thurston is the county’s most diverse school district, with nearly half of its students belonging to a minority group.
“It’s very reflective of what a family might look like in today’s society,” Johnson said. “The illustrations, the stories, just reflect all walks of life, all kinds of children around the world.”
For example, the stories depict single-parent families, families with a variety of cultural backgrounds and economic status, as well as students with disabilities, she said.
Joanna Barnes, a third-grade teacher at Lydia Hawk Elementary School in Lacey, said she likes how the curriculum is organized into units that integrate science and social studies lessons into reading activities. Her students have studied ecosystems, sea turtles and cheetahsas part of their reading lessons.
Often, Barnes said, she has a hard time getting students to put away the books and magazines.
“My students are excited about reading time and excited about learning about people and things in their world,” she said. “They’re getting a lot more experience as to how the world works.”
Jada Flynn, a third-grader at Lydia Hawk, said she likes reading the National Geographic Explorer magazines because they’re interesting and often feature animals.
“I like how all the stories give us a lesson,” she said.