Raelyn’s favorite thing to do during the pandemic has been reading to herself. “She can read, and she will,” said her mother Kaschka Peavy of her 7-year-old daughter, but reading out loud with others just wasn’t happening.
Raelyn is attending first-grade classes at Lake Arbor Elementary School in Mitchellville, Md. She’s an older first grader with a late birthday, so she’s a little ahead of her classmates and a strong reader, but during school over Zoom, Kaschka, who works from home, noticed that her daughter wasn’t calling out to read aloud.
“Raelyn has a stutter, but she only stutters when she gets emotional and she gets nervous when reading aloud.” Kaschka said.
So, she signed Raelyn up for BookNook through the Prince George’s County Public Schools PGCPS READS program. For Kaschka, reading is more than seeing letters on the page and being able to make the sounds they represent. It’s about knowing all the different ways they can sound, and being confident that you’re saying them the right way in the right context. It’s Raelyn’s confidence in reading that was lagging behind and distance learning only served to diminish it.
“It was just something I really wanted her to do. She really needed these two days to give her that extra push and a little more one-on-one time with a teacher,” Kaschka said.
The Impact: Raelyn started working with her BookNook tutors and podmates in November. By the time Winter break ended and tutoring resumed, Raelyn was reading more aloud at home to her mom and calling out to read more in class.
Raelyn recently took the NWEA MAP test and on her scores for listening comprehension, phonological awareness, word recognition and picture vocabulary, she is meeting or exceeding expectations.
Raelyn’s school teacher is handling a very active group of Lake Arbor elementary students through Zoom everyday. And the ability of the teacher to focus on children who don’t appear to need the help is virtually nonexistent. Kaschka said BookNook has been essential during the pandemic to keep her daughter on or in Raelyn’s case ahead of pace.
The only issue Raelyn is having with BookNook, is that she got really attached to Ms. Doreen, her first tutor, and she shifted from her once she started advancing in the program. Her mother said that was necessary because the changes were precipitated by Raelyn’s progress and the need to be placed with children on her reading level. As the month of March opened Raelyn’s tutor informed her that she would possibly need harder books to read in the coming weeks.
“Her confidence is getting better; she’s ready to read what’s on the screen, she’s 100 percent ready to participate, and she really loves it,” Kaschka said. “Honestly, for my 7-year-old to get excited about doing school work after the school day is over, and her response makes me feel like I did something good as her parent.”
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Shelby County Schools (SCS) is not taking any chances with supporting struggling readers, especially those who were identified as in need of reading intervention well before the pandemic suddenly upended classrooms and daily teacher-student engagement across Greater Memphis. To address reading literacy as a critical need, and to minimize the “Covid slide” plaguing other districts around the country, SCS announces an exciting expanded partnership with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH). This reading initiative scales technology-infused guided reading through BookNook to support 40 elementary and K-8 schools, plus 35 combined afterschool programs, congregations, and charter schools across the city.
Triggering the need for wide-scale support, reading literacy has been identified as a social determinant of student and family health, and one of several economic and social conditions that influence differences in health status. Dr. Albert Mosley, senior vice president and chief mission integration officer at MLH, explains why this is so critical to all families:
“Based on the 2019 TNReady Assessment, about 75% of SCS third graders across the district are not where they need to be with their grade level reading. Third grade reading is a predictor of graduating from high school, and predicts health literacy. If a patient can’t fully understand what a doctor is saying and can’t accurately take medications, that will have a direct impact on health outcomes. This is why third grade learning is both an education and healthcare issue,” states Dr. Mosley.
“SCS and MLH are two longstanding community institutions with a shared commitment to serving and improving the well-being of Shelby County/Memphis families,” said Superintendent Dr. Joris M. Ray. “We’re mobilizing additional resources and tools to bring more students the reading support they need to put them on the right path toward academic success.”
What makes the program extraordinary is the coalition of partners that are mobilizing hundreds of adults as reading tutors. A massive collaborative effort is underway with Greater Memphis nonprofit organizations, churches, and other faith-based institutions. Dedicated community members from groups like Red Door Urban Missions and Neighborhood Christian Centers play a dominant role in bringing reading support to struggling students and families.
“No app can teach kids how to read. It takes a human touch,” says BookNook CEO Michael Lombardo, “BookNook enables more opportunities for adults to be a part of the equation. From church volunteers to teachers in virtual classrooms, to families at home, caring adults are coming together to help kids struggling with reading, using our technology as a bridge for both connecting and together making life-changing reading breakthroughs.”
The nucleus of the partnership was a spring 2019 pilot with a seed grant from Shelby County-based Urban Child Institute (UCI) and support from Read901. That summer, 95% of the 979 participating Memphis students either maintained (60%) or increased (35%) their grade level equivalency.
Then as COVID-19 hit, BookNook quickly pivoted to provide virtual tutoring to complement their tech-based platform, achieving positive results nationally with an average of 3.5 months of literacy progress during the spring school shutdown (and even further results to date).
SCS launched another pilot program in April 2020, funded through the CARES Act for 25 participating after-school sites and schools, with the help of volunteer tutors from both SCS and City Year Memphis. Among the 417 students in the pilot, average projected reading growth increased nearly four times over, with progress measured against a full year of traditional instruction, effectively reversing “Covid slide.”
The tremendous success of these earlier programs has prompted SCS to expand to 40 schools, scaling up the number of students and families who will benefit from strengthening both reading and health literacy. BookNook will be implemented based on individual school needs, whether as part of the regular curriculum, as school-day interventions, or as after-school enrichment, with the community coalition continuing to play a prominent role in the initiative. As the cloud-based BookNook runs on any device, including SCS tablets issued to students, the anticipation is for a seamless transition from distance to in-person learning when students return to the classroom.
In total, with the expanded partnership, a minimum of 3,000 K-5 students will receive live interventions, guided reading support, and remote tutoring for the 2020-21 school year. For more information, contact SCS Media Relations at email@example.com.
BookNook is a social enterprise on a mission to close the reading opportunity gap by using technology to provide every student access to world-class teaching, whether at school or online. Founded in 2016, BookNook has quickly grown to partner with hundreds of schools, school districts, and nonprofits across 32 states. It has received national recognition for its impact on students’ reading ability and its unique equity-based pricing model.
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The Story of Benji: Benji is a pretty good reader. He’s seven attending first-grade classes at Dora Kennedy French Language Immersion School in Greenbelt, Md. Like many children in the county – and the country – he is attending those classes at home.
Children at immersion schools or who are learning English as their second language often have to work a little harder to keep up with their reading skills even under normal conditions, because they are learning two sets in both languages. This expected hindrance has been exacerbated by distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Knowing and seeing that, Benji’s mother Jaunae said she signed Benji up for BookNook tutoring through Prince George’s County Public Schools PGCPS READS program, “The first day I got the email.” “BookNook, they say it’s about improving reading skills not teaching skills,” Jaunae said, “But he surprises me now that he knows certain words and BookNook is helping him break down the words into prefixes and suffixes.”
She said Benji is clearly “learning things”, his understanding of syllables and rhyming has greatly improved and that daily he is able to pick out and read words she “wouldn’t expect from a first grader.” “We are still working on inflection and pauses,” Jaunae said. “But they are teaching comprehension skills too and I didn’t realize that.”
The Story of Bradley: In another part of Prince George’s County, Dalia, mother to 5-year-old Bradley, said she was also surprised with the speed of her son’s reading growth working with BookNook only two days a week. He moved up several reading levels in school since he began tutoring in November.
“Bradley is a beginner. He barely knew his letters, ” Dalia said. Heading into first grade at Greenbelt Elementary School school next year, she was worried that with the distance learning Bradley would fall behind.
“He knew some sounds but he didn’t have any recognition of those sounds to the letters really … now he knows almost all of his letters and the sounds,” Dalia said. And she said his tutoring is now in line with and reinforcing his daily classwork. “Anytime he has tutoring on Monday or Wednesday, I see the next day he is a little more confident in his school’s virtual classes,” she said.
But what is keeping the boys interested is the sense of community across schools that they are building in their pods. It is perhaps the aspect both parents said is what is driving their child’s interest. Both boys are in virtual pods with children from other Prince George’s County Public Elementary schools.
Benji has three other children in his BookNook pod, Jaunae said, adding, “ His favorite part is talking to the other kids about what happened in the books they read and talking to them about their schools and their neighborhoods, and it’s like he has a whole new set of friends.”
“So, I found it rewarding that all the kids are from the same county,” Dalia said. “He looks forward to seeing different faces and that’s what gets him excited to come to the sessions.”
The Results: Both boys’ growth has led to both an increase in reading comprehension, confidence, ability and interest. Jaunae says Benji now reads to himself more and asks more questions when they read together. “And his confidence is much higher than it was … much higher.”
Bradley can now find and open the BookNook App and get into his pod on his own, and is able to identify more than pictures. “I can see easily how much they are reading and how much they are growing,” said Dalia. “He basically started from zero and has moved up tremendously, in what has basically been two months,” She said, adding, “when you include the breaks holidays.”
“Bradley’s sessions are Mondays and Wednesdays and I remember on ‘M.L.K.’ Monday he was crushed that he didn’t have BookNook twice that week.”
Results like this truly take a village. It starts with determined students, eager to learn, aided by thousands of parents, tutors, caregivers, educators, paraprofessionals, AmeriCorps members, and volunteers.
To date, BookNook is now in 34 states with new city and district-wide partnerships blossoming every week, from urban non-profit coalitions in Detroit, MI, to coastal schools across California, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Maryland.
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