Glencoe Elementary named Reading Spotlight School

Photo: Local school administrators and teachers gather for a photo during Glencoe Elementary School’s Summer Literacy Camp. Pictured from left: April Daugherty, GES reading coach; Tiffany Scott, federal program director for the Etowah County Board of Education; dr Alan Cosby, Superintendent of the Etowah County Board of Education; dr Cynthia McCarty, representative of the State Board of Education District 6; Laura Sims, GES Director; Scarlett Farley, Etowah County Board of Education Representative, No. 2. (Submitted photo.)

By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor

In a June 9 resolution, the Alabama State Board of Education designated Glencoe Elementary School as a Science of Reading Spotlight School.

Glencoe Elementary was one of 12 schools recognized as 2022-2023 Spotlight Schools.

The schools were selected based on their “strong commitment to Alabama’s K-3 students,” the resolution said.

“That’s why I’m very proud of our teachers,” said GES Director Laura Sims. “All of this is of course for the benefit of our children and we are delighted that this is happening. But the fact is, the teachers here are willing to do anything to serve their students. They’re committed, they’re committed, they want to see success with their kids.”

In a 2021 US News & World Report analysis, GES students demonstrated 57 percent reading proficiency, which was 56 percent and 43 percent higher than the district and state averages, respectively.

“These (selected) schools have demonstrated reading growth in their third-grade outcomes data that exceeds the average third-grade reading growth for the state of Alabama,” the resolution reads.

Sims explained that GES was chosen both for its “big gain” in third grade reading scores since 2019, as well as for its hands-on programs and teacher participation — both inside and outside of the classroom.

“We made sure our teachers participated in the science of reading, and that’s programs like LETRS, which stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spell,” Sims said.

LETRS is a two-year certification program delivered as professional development for instructors outside of the classroom and sometimes outside of school hours.

“Right now, 75 percent of our K-3 teachers have completed the program,” Sims said. “It shows their dedication and commitment. Also, 100 percent of them are in the process, which means we have a few teachers still working on it.”

Sims noted that the more teachers can learn about the process of reading itself, the more effectively they can teach it.

“That makes more sense to her,” she said. “Teachers understand the history or reason behind (the methods) through LETRS. And because they know why, students acquire that knowledge. It’s no longer “just because”; they actually understand why.”

While LETRS is a government-sponsored science of reading program, Sims said GES employs several programs of its own, such as the Orton-Gillingham approach.

“Orton Gillingham programs cater to students with dyslexia or dyslexia tendencies,” she said. “These are strategies that work for everyone, but also help these kids specifically.”

The program includes hands-on learning and teaching, including not only auditory and visual, but also tactile elements.

“We use multi-sensory (instructions),” Sims said. “They use movement along with sound when they’re doing things so the students have that muscle memory. That’s what we saw (as) the key.”

Students at Glencoe Primary School use blending boards and sandboxes as they learn to write letters. Teachers show students what shapes to make in the sand while repeating the appropriate phonetic sounds.

“The students seem more excited,” Sims said. “They are busy with their classes and as I said, there is a lot of movement. You don’t just sit at a desk. There are many tactile (activities) where they feel different things. Because of this, it gets stuck.”

One of the school’s main reading programs is the Summer Literacy Camp, which runs for five weeks in the summer from Monday to Thursday from 8am to 12pm. Camp participants can be any K-3 students who fall below the benchmark reading scores. According to Sims, however, student selection “is not determined solely by an assessment grade.” Glencoe faculty use teachers’ recommendations to “look at the whole child” to ensure no student slips through the cracks.

“Basis for [literacy camp] is for the students to prevent this “summer slip” that we all have,” she said. “These students who are in our literacy camp will not have such a deficit in the coming school year. We shorten this gap. We help them become stronger readers.”

The multi-sensory strategies used in GES, Sims says, have shown both improved test scores and more confident students.

“You can see that in their work, you can see that when they enter the building,” she said. “And that’s the most important thing, how the whole kid feels. We want them to be academically prepared. But if you help the whole child, you will still see that growth.”

Teachers at Glencoe Elementary use other tools such as Heggerty Phonemic Awareness. They also seek help from the school’s reading coach to help their students gain the basics of literacy.

“It’s like a toolbox,” Sims said. “Each kid has different tools they need to make it click, and when that happens, the world opens up for them. I’m glad we can be a part of it.”

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