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Improving literacy in Worcester County

By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer

(June 29, 2018) The Worcester County Public Schools Board of Education was presented a report highlighting two programs boosting literacy and health during its monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 19.

Coordinator of Instruction Dee Shorts and Literacy Coach Georgia Wierengo discussed the 100 Book Challenge Program, which promotes higher literacy proficiency for Kindergarten-aged children.

The program was implemented at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.

“At the beginning of the school year, 22.9 percent of students were ready for first grade,” Shorts said. “By the end of the year that number jumped to 89.6 percent.”

According to their PowerPoint presentation, the major causes for such a low percentage stemmed from students not having access to large classroom libraries to support reading in school and at home, outdated texts and activities, and variation of knowledge between teachers.

The program is based on three evaluations: cultural engagement, student choice, and the ability to meet the student’s reading level.

Students would “shop for books” during class time every morning, choosing four to six. An independent reading time was slowly implemented at school, starting from five minutes up to 30. Students began taking books home after three weeks and they kept a log of their reading hours.

“These kids are highly engaged in these books,” Wierengo said. “They love to read.”

After three weeks, the Independent Reading Level Assessment was used to determine reading levels among individual students. Children received medals for each 15 minutes they read.

“Successes are celebrated through steps,” Wierengo said.

Another program to boost literacy and comprehensive levels in Worcester County schools is the Integrated Health Literacy Program (IHLP), which was created through a partnership with Atlantic General Hospital in 2012.

The program addresses the need for students to make effective decisions and advocate their own health and share information with peers and family regarding health choices.

Students are scored on a 0-2, 3-4 or 5-6 scale. Five-to-six indicates a high health literacy rate, whereas 0-2 scores require significant improvements.

All health literacy levels are integrated into reading, math, social studies and science in every grade level.

“In every grade level we are seeing increases in student’s health literacy scores,” said IHLP Coordinator of Instruction Tamara Mills.

The most significant improvement occurred at the third-grade level, where students with high literacy health score of 5-6 increased from 37.2 percent pre-test to 68.7 percent post-test – a 31.5 percent increase.

Different levels of health literacy are focused on depending on grade level. First graders learn about germs, dental health and eating healthy, while third graders are taught about energy balance, exercise and healthcare.

At the middle school level, seventh graders learn about healthy sleep habits, stress and coping skills, and sun safety. Meanwhile, eighth graders are taught stress management, the importance of not texting and driving, and are educated about substance abuse.

Nutrition education is a required literacy lesson in every grade level. As students enter into middle school, stress management also becomes a required lesson in seventh and eighth grade.

The Health Literacy Program will continue in grades 1 through 8. Health Literacy Liaison Julia Perrotta will also visit schools to promote awareness throughout the 2018-2019 school year.