Literacy is front and center at Elkhart Community Schools

When Warren Buffett was once asked about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of nearby books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.”

When it comes to children, statistics show that a child who reads on grade level by third grade is 85% more likely to graduate from high school.

For Tara White, ECS Director of Literacy, there is no time like the present to put a strong emphasis on literacy across our district. “The Board of School Trustees was clear through the development of the Strategic Plan that literacy is a top academic priority for our district. With the support of the Board, our goal is to create a culture of reading throughout the district, not only with students, but with staff and across all subjects.”

Last year, White spent time with media specialists in our libraries, developed a literacy committee, gained an understanding of where we are, and identified collaboration opportunities. It was through the work of the committee that a literacy plan with seven components was created:

  1. Dynamic Culture of Literacy
  2. Vital PLCs
  3. Effective Tier I Instruction
  4. Proactive Assessment and Data Monitoring
  5. Strategic Interventions
  6. Family & Community Outreach
  7. Literacy Leadership

“We’re changing how we approach literacy throughout the district,” said White. “Students will see fun and exciting opportunities to engage in reading. In addition to our classrooms’ focus on literacy, students and staff will also be encouraged to participate in contests, events, and promotions centered around literacy.”

The first series set to improve student engagement is a “Tackle a Good Book” theme, designed around football. Younger students may see high school football players in their schools, talking about reading and discussing books. Students will be encouraged to attend high school football games, where contests will be held and rewards given. Additional special guests may also find their way into classrooms.  

Students will also see a repeated message of how important reading is throughout all disciplines, and an emphasis on reading for interest. “It’s important that we know where students are in terms of achievement,” said White. “But I don’t remember what label I wore as a reader in second grade, and I hope our students don’t remember it either. I hope they remember the teachers who encouraged them to try a new book, or an amazing book that sparked an interest. Setting the bar high, encouraging students to aim higher, and gains in closing the gap will be found through students engaging in books they enjoy. We should always encourage reading for fun.”

Throughout the district, PLCs (professional learning centers) will provide teachers with an opportunity to focus on the material they are teaching, and why it is important. “Our established state standards are long and wide,” said White. “Providing meaningful professional development to our teachers, helping them narrow down the standards and develop best practices, establishing district-wide curriculum, and providing them with opportunities to collaborate with our media specialists who can help support and co-teach in their classrooms will be a positive change for our staff and students.”

Another key aspect to improving literacy will come in family and community outreach. “We have incredible partners in the community who are advocating for reading and access to books. The Elkhart Public Library does a fantastic job engaging students in summer reading and special programs throughout the year. Elkhart Education Foundation has helped create living library spaces for our students that are full of life and excitement. Our CARES program and The United Way offer reading mentoring programs, like Real Men Read, that help our students see that reading is important to adults. The Harmony Adult Learning Center at Agape Church will be providing literacy programs for parents and adults. We’re committed to bringing literacy to our students and community, not just through our schools, but through outreach with our partners.”

Tara is currently reading: Ashes by Laurie Halse-Anderson. This YA book is the third book in a trilogy, and is about a girl who escapes from her master during the Revolutionary War. The lead character goes on a mission to find her sister, and faces the internal struggle of who she wants to win the war.