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Program aims to boost reading for third graders

Third graders across the parish are going to get a hand up thanks to a volunteer organization that aims to boost reading in Webster Parish elementary schools this fall.

Superintendent of Schools Johnny Rowland Jr. said he learned of the Step Forward organization a couple of months ago, and the more he learned about it, the more he wanted what they offer.

“It’s an organization that reached out to us that was already serving Caddo, Bossier and Desoto parishes, and they are partnering with us to help establish volunteers that will go into our elementary schools to serve the third grade with reading to increase our literacy,” he said. “They will work with the principal and the teacher to come up with a schedule that is not only best for students but that works best for the schools.”

Volunteers will come in during school hours and work with students by creating collaborative projects, such as providing storyteller volunteers, summer reading promotions, mentor recruitment, health fairs and other projects. Teams will be created to work with the schools and create a plan that works for the students and teachers.

“It will take some strategic planning among the teachers, the principal and the volunteers,” he said.

Rowland said he’s excited about the venture because this organization is another tool that can help the students.

Step Forward is an organization that uses a team approach to change what they see as a “dire” future for many children.

“Step Forward applies this team approach through a growing partnership of more than 1,300 cross-sector individuals and organizations working toward an ambitious goal: the opportunity for a sustainable, living wage job for every single young adult in northwest Louisiana,” Laura Alderman, Step Forward executive director, said.

Last school year, there was some concern about the reading scores in Webster Parish, specifically among the kindergarten and third grade classes.

In February 2016, figures gathered by Marty Kilgore, Title II staff development facilitator with WPSB, showed in the fall of 2011, that 43 percent of students in kindergarten were not reading at grade level. Third grade figures for that same year showed only 53 percent were at grade level. By the fall of 2014, kindergarten rose from 53 to 56 percent, and third grade showed an increase to 63 percent.

According to figures from Step Forward, more than 11,000 children under the age of 6 live in poverty, and 52 percent of kindergarten students enter school lacking basic reading skills. Nearly 2,500 third grade students are below grade level in reading.

The action plan consists of four areas: planning, consisting of developing an action plan; do, implementing the plan, study, monitor progress and collect data; and act, improve or scale what works.

“It’s a great idea, and I talked with our supervisory staff, and they thought it was a good idea,” he said.
“Then I made the board aware of it. I’ve already talked to our principals, and we’re just making preparations and getting ready to go.”