Chinook celebrates success of literacy initiative over three years

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A celebration of the successfully completed Balanced Literacy Initiative throughout the Chinook School Division highlighted the strides accomplished by students since the launch of a literacy focus in the classroom in 2009.

The program allowed an additional 14 per cent of student to move into the upper two levels of reading achievement over three years. Overall, a full 79 per cent of students in Grade 3, 6 and 9 are meeting expectations in assessments (42 per cent exceeding expectations and 32 per cent are meeting expectations), with 13 per cent are not yet meeting expectations and eight per cent are in the category of needing supports.

“It has been an unbelievable success,” said Director of Education Liam Choo-Foo, and he noted the initiative was part of establishing a new culture across the newly established school division.

“As a result of this initiative, Chinook School Division has created a learning culture second to none in this province,” Choo-Foo said. “And some of these people have been the pioneers. While it has been a true collective effort throughout this division, with every staff member getting involved – when it first started there were a few pioneers that had some heavy, heavy work and heavy, heavy lifting to do.”

“You have laid a foundation for this School Division that we’re only going to build on year over year. Whether our focus is literacy, or mathematics, or learning for all kids, the foundation you built is a legacy you leave this division.”

For students starting with Balanced Literacy in grade one, they were able to improve their success percentage by 20 per cent (58.1 per cent meeting and exceeding expectation in grade one, 72.3 per cent in grade 2, and 78.2 per cent in grade 3).

The division also celebrated the improved success of young male readers, with boys showing a 24.5 per cent improvement from grade one to grade three. After starting at 51.7 per cent in 2009, they jumped 16.1 per cent in grade two and finished at a 76.2 per cent meeting and exceeding percentage by grade 3.

They also had success in addressing the needs of young students who needed supports by delivering specialized attention through their Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) program. Of the 17 students in Grade one who were not meeting expectations or who needed support, a total of 15 moved into the meeting expectations range and one reached exceeding expectations status.

Kathy Robson, who serves as the Literacy Coordinator for the Chinook School Division, noted she has seen the success of balanced literacy as a teacher, principal, and literacy coordinator.

“As a teacher I‘ve been able to witness that love of learning in my students,” she said. “It was in the way that the students couldn’t wait to read. The way that they were reading everything in the room.”

“As a principal there was a feeling of excitement and a momentum among the teachers on my staff. They knew that Balanced Literacy was something great.”

“As a coordinator I’ve seen the power of this initiative on a greater level in the division. I’ve been able to see all teachers in the division using balanced literacy within their classrooms, and I think the biggest piece of that for me has been the impact of the coaches.”

Literacy Coach Michelle Dewar, who worked with teachers in the division to implement Balanced Literacy strategies, said the three-year effort had a major impact on teachers.

“I’ve never been part of an initiative in the last 25 years that has impacted teaching practice in such an encompassing way as the Balanced Literacy Initiative has,” Dewar said.

She notes that after the three-year literacy journey, literacy changes permeate through schools.

The Central School teaching tandem of Peggy Erickson and Tanya Hanson shared their impressions on the importance of Balanced Literacy.

“Our flexible guided reading groups allow for each child to be taught with his or her needs in mind,” explained Hanson, a Grade One teacher at Central. “This allows our students to continue their growth as readers and writers throughout the grades.”

Erickson, a Student Services Teacher at Central, said their focus benefited from a team approach as a staff.

“The Balanced Literacy Initiative has positively impacted our students, our teachers and our school community,” Erickson said. “Balanced Literacy is inclusive. Our motto ‘learning for all’ means not only the students with regular curricular goals benefit, but also students working on individual goals can have them met within the Balanced Literacy framework.”

Angela Sauder, parent of an Ashley Park School student who participated in the LLI, said the additional focus placed on literacy was a real help with reading comprehension.

“She became a reader with better skills and so, so much more confidence. I really, really would like to thank everyone who contributed and worked hard to help thousands of children around the Southwest, and especially my daughter. What you’ve taught her will remain with her for the rest of her life. This experience has been so positive for our family.”

Chinook School board chair Randy Beler said the board deliberated over the $1 million price tag of the three year project when it was originally presented, but ultimately approved the project on its merits.

 “This is really a feather in the cap of Chinook School Division, it’s something we can all be proud of,” he said. “The board realizes and appreciates the effort of every person that has been involved in this program. We sincerely thank you for your part in making our literacy program the success it has become.”

Organizations: Chinook School Division

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