Nearly 150 Oak Harbor teachers filled their brains with strategies for teaching students lifelong reading skills at classes funded by a $2.16-million grant from the Department of Defense.
Almost 100 percent of the district preschool through fifth grade teachers became students last week at the Reading Academy. They were immersed in five days of viewing brain diagrams showing how students receive and retain information, charts to assess student reading accuracy and strategies to improve students’ vocabulary.
Principals, staff, Superintendent Rick Schulte and Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon also attended.
“It’s a district effort and it will make a huge difference for all the kids,” said Paula Seaman, Department of Defense grants program manager and past Crescent Harbor Elementary School teacher. All students will benefit, especially those struggling with reading, Seaman said.
“One of the things we know from research is that students who are successful readers will be successful in all areas,” Gibbon said. To be successful at math, students need to be able to read story problems and to understand science they need to be able to accurately read lab reports, Gibbon said.
“Reading is an important foundational life skill and will help kids academically and also in college and job searching,” Gibbon said.
“The Reading Academy teaches teachers new methods to get to the students in different ways,” said Joe Hunt, Oak Harbor School District communications director.
Three trainers from the Consortium on Reading Excellence, CORE, taught the teachers.
Experiencing the same instruction will help all teachers teach the same strategies to all students. This means the district will work together better and students, especially Navy students who move from building to building, will now get the same instruction and strategies from all teachers, Seaman said.
A benefit of the grant is that CORE trainers don’t just teach for one week and then leave.
CORE trainer Amy Vanravenswaay said she will join the teachers in their classrooms during the school year to help them look at data, model teaching lessons and team teach.
Vanravenswaay has worked with Crescent Harbor Elementary School and Olympic View Elementary School to implement these methods for the past two years.
Amy Watson taught first and fourth grade at Crescent Harbor Elementary School and used the method.
“It gives me a much more focused instruction. You know why you’re teaching what you’re teaching and what you need to do next,” Watson said.
Watson said there’s a steep learning curve when presented with these teaching methods.
“It’s new information or old information presented in a new way. It’s helpful to watch a pro,” Watson said, noting that last week’s classes were easier and acted as a helpful refresher for her.
For Christina Hwang, a first grade teacher at Broad View Elementary School, almost everything in last week’s classes was new.
“I have some things I can implement quickly and I’m excited to see how this program helps me help my students,” Hwang said.
Susie Bender, a first grade teacher at Broad View Elementary School, said that looking at learning in new ways will help her be a better teacher.
“They’ve given us a lot of brain research on how students solidify their learning so it becomes automatic and not belabored and what I need to do as a teacher to help them learn easily. That was the biggest ‘aha’ for me,” Bender said.
The Navy brought the school district’s attention to the grant, called Early Reading, Lifelong Success. It offered up to $2.16 million over three years.
To qualify, the district needed a certain number of Navy students, evidence that it would be successful and a plan for how to sustain changes after the grant ends, Gibbon said.
With a Navy student percentage of more than 59 percent, the school district qualified, Gibbon said. Since the methods had been in use at Crescent Harbor Elementary School and Olympic View Elementary School for two years, it qualified as a successful district.
To utilize the methods two years ago, the district asked CORE to come and also hired two literacy coaches who gave teachers feedback and lesson ideas, Gibbon said.
“Last year, both schools made significant improvements, especially Olympic View Elementary. It was recognized as one of the top five most improved schools in the state,” Gibbon said. “Since we already have success in other schools we are confident this will improve reading literacy.”
Last week’s classes were only the beginning of this three-year project. In the second year of the grant, Gibbon said they hope to expand to writing instruction.
Seaman said she views this grant as a huge opportunity for the district.
“You can’t get better training than this; it’s amazing. Watch out Washington state — here comes Oak Harbor School District!” Seaman said.