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Posts tagged ‘literacy’

All Aboard: Reading Bus Celebrates Literacy at Connecticut Schools


Students at Moriarty Magnet School in Norwich were the first to board the Read Across America Reading Bus this year. Back row (L-R): CEA’s Tom Nicholas, Sandra Cassineri, Janet Streckfus, and Michele Ridolfi O’Neill, along with fourth-grade teacher Dawn Bisson.


“I can’t believe it.”

“This is A-MAZING!”

Those were just a few of the early reactions from fourth-graders climbing aboard the colorful, 38-foot bus outside Moriarty Magnet School in Norwich this morning.

Today kicks off the Connecticut Education Foundation’s (CEF) second annual Read Across America Reading Bus Tour, featuring a customized blue bus decorated with well-known Dr. Seuss characters and outfitted with bookshelves, benches, carpeting, and hundreds of new books.

Hosted by CEF and sponsored by Big Y World Class Markets, iHeartRadio, and the National Education Association, the year’s biggest literacy event rolls into six eastern Connecticut towns this week to bring the joy of reading to hundreds of students. Complete with guest readers, costumed characters, crafts, and literacy activities, the event also includes book bags filled with school supplies, and a new book of their choice for nearly 1,000 students. Read more

Workshops Focus on Best Practices for Student Achievement

Alliance Districts Focus on Data

What gets measured gets done. That was the message today from top education officials who encouraged educators in the Alliance Districts to focus their priorities on maintaining and investing in things that increase student success.


Dr. Heidi Ramirez, a speaker at the SDE Alliance District conference, talked about the importance of data.

“Think about the things that matter most and the factors that influence student achievement and put your focus there,” said Dr. Heidi Ramirez, a speaker at the State Department of Education Alliance District conference held in New Britain today.

She said the best strategies won’t work unless you align and tailor monitoring to the goals and priorities established by the district and ensure that it’s frequent, ongoing and at the forefront of all activities.

“You have to watch the data, pay attention to what’s happening, and be able to respond to it quickly,” said Ramirez.

Success can be measured in a variety of ways and should be recognized. Ramirez said, “Identify and celebrate early wins that align with district priorities.”

Implementing the Common Core

Dr. Dianna Roberge-Wentzell conducted a workshop on implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). She said the standards, adopted by 45 states, are fewer and clearer than earlier standards used in our schools. But she said the new standards are more rigorous.  She urged workshop participants to consider the school days in their districts. “We have to look at how time is spent or we will come up short. There are no easy answers.”

She said the state will be providing training to Common Core coaches in local school districts. Today she talked about getting good practice in front of key stakeholders, including students, as soon as possible. Educators should ask:

Are students persevering in solving problems?
Are they reasoning abstractly and quantitatively?
Can students construct viable arguments?
Can they critique the reasoning of others?
Are students attending to precision?

Roberge-Wentzell said, “Some of this is really great stuff that teachers have done for a long time.” She encouraged districts to videotape teachers who have already aligned instruction to the Common Core standards well, so it can be provided as professional development to other teachers.

At Roberge-Wentzell’s workshop, teams from the Alliance Districts worked on ideas to assess implementation of CCSS in their schools. Derby Superintendent Matthew Conway said a key goal is supporting teachers. “What support do they need to ensure success when it comes to CCSS?” he said. As professional development is rolled out in the coming months, Conway says he’ll be looking at any additional training that may be needed. The Derby district is tapping the services of two state Regional Education Centers. Nine days of small group professional development is in the works with up to 20 days per school, one on one, with trainers doing embedded professional development with teachers.

Changing School Structures Through Time

In some schools, the structure of public schools hasn’t changed in decades, and today educators from the state’s 30 Alliance Districts heard how examining school structural changes can make a difference in student learning and achievement.

“Public schools aren’t failing—teachers and administrators are succeeding but our structure is outdated,” said Rob Travaglini, director of school and district support at the National Center on Time and Learning.

Last year, five Connecticut schools in three districts began working with the Time Collaborative, a multi-state, public-private partnership, to create more and better learning environments.

The first cohort of schools in New London, East Hartford, and Meriden began with two goals to change school structure: adding time and creating enrichment opportunities.

While schools have reported success, it wasn’t without difficulties and compromises.

“Schools typically operate from the top down. This process allows each school to act and design schedules that meet their needs.  It happens at the building level which develops direct ownership as it moves forward,” said Travaglini.

Mark Benigni, Meriden Superintendent, said it’s important to have buy-in from teachers, board of education members, and parents.

“Our plan was led by our union, so it’s the teachers’ initiative first and formulated by teachers,” said Benigni. “It’s opened up creativity and flexibility for teachers. It’s still a work in progress, but students love it and despite the push back from parents and the board.  It’s all working.”

Bridgeport, Windham, and two additional schools in Meriden joined the Time Collaborative this year and are in the planning stages of implementation.

Early literacy

The 17 Alliance Districts that selected early literacy as one of their year two priorities attended sessions that detailed what will be expected of them, and eventually of all Alliance Districts, when it comes to rolling out the state’s new framework for early literacy.

This year, the first in a four-year roll-out process, the 17 districts will nominate one elementary school to take part in the state’s literacy model. Over the subsequent three years the districts, with support from the state, will roll out the program in the rest of their k-2 schools.

Ellen Cohn, the SDE’s director of standards, curriculum and instruction, said, “We need to balance the urgency of the mission against how much change any system can take without buckling under the weight of the change. That’s why we have a four-year expansion plan until this becomes the model for every k-2 school in the Alliance Districts.”

Proud to Be an East Hartford Teacher

First-grade teacher Stefanie Donahue works with students on an activity based on a Clifford book they've just read together.

East Hartford first-grade teacher Stefanie Donahue works with students on a literacy activity based on a Clifford book yesterday at Silver Lane School’s Family Literacy Night.

Dozens of educators wore bright yellow stickers that read, “Proud to be an East Hartford teacher,” as they welcomed 300 plus students and parents to Silver Lane School last night. The East Hartford Education Association (EHEA) members were at the elementary school for a Family Literacy Night they had organized for the entire school community.

Teachers were delighted by the outstanding turnout for the event, which promoted literacy through a celebration of the popular children’s book character Clifford’s 50th birthday.

The night included Clifford themed literacy activities for students, a presentation from a literacy expert for the parents, and a pasta dinner and birthday cake for everyone. The EHEA and its local Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee, with support from CEA, the school district, and Scholastic, put the event together for the Silver Lane community. Teachers volunteered their time for a night the kids wouldn’t forget.

East Hartford Education Association Executive Board members serve a pasta dinner to Silver Lane families. From left are, Lia O'Connell, , and Marcia Ferreira.

East Hartford teachers served a pasta dinner to Silver Lane families. From left are Thomas O’Connell kindergarten teacher Lia O’Connell, EHEA Vice President Paul Apostalon Jr., and EHEA Newsletter Editor Marcia Ferreira.

Teachers’ pride and enthusiasm for their profession and commitment to their students was evident to everyone who attended the event. “Parents kept thanking us the entire evening,” EHEA President Karen O’Connell said. “I think it really shows great community involvement.”

O’Connell said that Silver Lane teachers have made engaging the community a priority. The school has a community health center, pre-K classes located in the building, and parents can easily stop by because it’s a neighborhood school.

East Hartford Schools Human Resources Director Chris Wethje wrote in an email to teachers, “The turnout was incredible and demonstrated just how hard you have all worked to establish a connection with the families of your community.”

Wethje added, “Our students are so lucky to have such dedicated, hardworking, and committed teachers.”

Literacy Coach Jean Ross reads "Clifford the Firehouse Dog" to Silver Lane students.

Literacy Coach Jean Ross reads “Clifford the Firehouse Dog” to Silver Lane students.

Second-grade teacher and administrator intern Jena Ledoux said that a literacy night was an obvious choice for Silver Lane. “Literacy is a key component of Silver Lane’s school improvement plan,” she said. And all of the Clifford themed activities for the children last night involved literacy.

Teachers read Clifford books to groups of students who then completed activities related to the stories — emphasizing to the students the real world connections they can find in books.

While their children were happily reading and working on projects, parents learned about the benefits that can come from reading to their children for even a few minutes every day.

Parent Shasha Thompson said she sees firsthand how reading at home has helped her kindergarten daughter, Nariyah Linsday. “She’s reading at a higher level. Reading to her at night really helps,” said Thompson.

East Hartford Education Association President Karen O'Connell poses with Clifford (principal Catherine Ciccomascolo in costume).

East Hartford Education Association President Karen O’Connell poses with Clifford (Silver Lane principal Catherine Ciccomascolo in costume).

O’Connell, who has many years of experience with young East Hartford students as a kindergarten teacher and now as a literacy coach, says she has seen an improvement in children’s literacy preparedness. “Because of education and outreach efforts more of the district’s disadvantaged families now have books in their homes,” she said.

All of the students who attended the event received another book to add to their collection courtesy of the EHEA. The EHEA also raffled off some additional individual books and kits of five books for parents that include strategies for making the most of read aloud opportunities. The school will also soon be receiving a huge kit of 50 e-books for its media center courtesy of the EHEA.

O’Connell said that the teachers received great support from the superintendent as well as the Board of Education chair, who both attended the event. O’Connell said, “the school system covered some of the operation costs so we could focus our money on books for the kids.”

That collaboration with and support from district leadership is no accident. “I’ve worked very hard to establish a relationship of mutual respect and it’s been reciprocated,” O’Connell said.

She added, “It’s all of us together working on behalf of the students.”

It’s Banned Books WeeK

Banned Books WeekSeptember 26 to October 3 is Banned Books Week – the only national celebration of the freedom to read.

The American Library Association and other sponsors have a website with information about the week, including a map of recent book bans and challenges in the United States and suggestions for event ideas.

Visit the online library Bookshare for digital books for students with difficulties reading printed text because of blindness, visual impairment, color blindness, certain learning disabilities, or certain mobility problems. A free membership with Bookshare will enable you to download two free e-text readers.