Magnolia Elementary, Where Teachers "Put Reading First" Every Day

Article excerpt

Teaching reading and learning to read are complex endeavors. Practices that are purposeful and connected help children think wisely about reading. It helps us (teachers) assess, reassess, and refine our efforts, so that we're doing more of what's working and less of what isn't. . . These efforts place children on solid ground during their initial stages of literacy development - Sharon Taberski (p. xvi).

Magnolia Elementary School

The Sandy Valley School District is nestled among the rolling Appalachian foothills of Stark, Carroll, and Tuscarawas Counties. It is a rural community steeped in heritage and a strong work ethic, dealing with the issues of literacy, Ohio State Academic Content Standards, the No Child Left Behind federal legislation, and Assessments (diagnostic, achievement, and proficiency testing). This is a district and community that takes the national goal of academic achievement seriously.

Within the 80-square-mile district resides a small treasure. It is a school house originally dedicated as the Magnolia High School in 1931. The seventy-year-old structure has supported eight generations of learners. Today, the building, known as the Magnolia Elementary School, is home to the district's K-2 students. It accommodates 340 students, nineteen teachers, and a support staff of eleven members. Other personnel, who service special needs, title programs, speech pathologists, orthopedically challenged and gifted students, are tucked into every nook and cranny, while a cafeteria staff prepares meals for students in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp. Nearly 40% of the school's children are on free or reduced lunches.

Crowded conditions in an antiquated building do not impede the progress or educational enthusiasm of this staff or its students. Students are gently and efficiently introduced to the concepts of print, alphabetic principle, and the world of reading as the initial steps toward literacy development. Children will gladly share their understanding of phonics and "sing" the sounds to any visitor stopping by their classroom. The print-rich environment of the classrooms spills out into the hallway. Student work decorates the walls in every room and corridor, and student created books are shared with peers across the grade levels.

This literacy focus is not accidental. It is the result of hard-working teachers and a supportive administrator who work in partnership to cultivate a literacy infused environment. First grade teacher, Melissa Fete explains,

It is extremely important that schools provide a rich literacy environment as we try to here at Magnolia Elementary. Through our programs such as BookIt, Student of the Week, and Young Authors, we are able to provide rich literacy experiences in ways that are engaging and inviting to the young learner. Such programs are so important to the children. The values we try to instill in becoming lifelong readers extend to the home with our home book bags and family reading activities.

Among the nineteen staff members, eleven hold master's degrees. Ninety-five percent of the staff has attended the State Institutions for Reading Instruction (SIRI). The teachers often attend trainings together so that they might support one another when implementing new ideas and instructional approaches in the classroom. Ideas and strategies from SIRI and other professional development opportunities are shared as teachers support one-another in their growth process through collaborative efforts, teamed teaching, and mentoring activities.

Cultivating Professional Growth

"Based on research and practice, successful schools have collaborative cultures in which administrators and teachers work as a team with a common commitment to literacy initiatives that ensure success for all" - Booth & Rowsell (p. 19).

Daily Common Planning Time. At Magnolia Elementary School, faculty members at each grade level meet daily for 45-minutes, prior to the start of classes, to coordinate lessons and activities related to the content area standards and the local course of study. …