Program seeks to close literacy gap

| Debbie Musser | August 16, 2019 | 0 Comments

Reading is the focus of an initiative available to Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Holy Spirit School principal Mary Adrian enjoys viewing graphs showing the tremendous impact of a literacy program implemented to improve reading fluency at her school.

“To see the progress our students have made has been truly inspiring,” Adrian said. “Our data shows that students who initially test below grade level are often, by the end of the school year, performing above grade level. Students are excited about reading, proud of their ability to read ‘hard words,’ and show increased confidence.”

The school in St. Paul partnered with Groves Academy in St. Louis Park, a school that specializes in helping struggling students, to offer Grove’s three-year literacy curriculum, starting in fall 2017 with kindergarten and first grade; second grade was added last fall.

“Over time, we had seen some students who did well in the early grades really begin to struggle in fourth and fifth grades, when there is a shift from learning to read to reading to learn,” Adrian said. “Reading seemed to be the issue – specifically reading fluency.”

The Groves initiative, which has also been implemented at St. Peter Claver School in St. Paul and Our Lady of Grace School in Edina with similar results, was funded by a $75,000 grant from Michael and Mary Cole, members of Holy Spirit and longtime supporters of their parish and Cretin-Derham Hall high school, both in St. Paul.

Now, the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE) in Edina is forging a partnership with Groves Academy, funded with a $1 million grant from Cretin-Derham Hall, that will expand the program to 17 more Catholic elementary schools this school year. Within five years, CSCOE hopes to expand the program to all 79 elementary schools.

Officials with CSCOE note that 14 to 18 percent of Catholic school students in grades K-2 are not reading at grade level. With the new Believe and Read initiative, the organization hopes to lower that percentage and close the literacy skills gap.

“The people at Groves are experts in the literacy field, not just locally but nationally, and they work well within the Catholic school environment where we address the whole child — body, mind and spirit,” said Gail Dorn, CSCOE president, while noting the generosity of CDH.

Groves Academy is widely known for its programs for students who have a learning disability, such as dyslexia and attention disorders. It also offers a center for literacy instruction, education and advocacy.

The Groves curriculum provides an evidence-based literacy structure that focuses on the mechanics of reading and spelling, helping schools track data and plan for interventions to meet the needs of moderate or high-risk students.

“We are wired to acquire language by being immersed in it, but not wired to read automatically,” said Katharine Campbell, director of Groves’ Institute for Professional Learning.

Through CSCOE’s Believe and Read initiative, five Groves literacy coaches will spend time in the 20 schools, working alongside K-2 teachers for 30 minutes a week to help emerging readers and build relationships with the teachers, so that by the end of the first year, the teachers are implementing the program.

Believe and ReadTwenty Catholic elementary schools will participate in Believe and Read this school year:

Annunciation, Minneapolis
Guardian Angels, Chaska
Holy Spirit, St. Paul
Immaculate Conception, Columbia Heights
Maternity of Mary-St. Andrew, St. Paul
Most Holy Redeemer, Montgomery
Nativity of Our Lord, St. Paul
Our Lady of Grace, Edina
Our Lady of Peace, Minneapolis
Sacred Heart, Robbinsdale
St. Dominic, Northfield
St. Jerome, Maplewood
St. John the Baptist, Jordan
St. John the Baptist, Savage
St. Joseph, Waconia
St. Michael, St. Michael
St. Peter Claver, St. Paul
St. Peter, North St. Paul
St. Therese, Deephaven
St. Thomas More, St. Paul

“In year two, we continue coaching, adding third grade and working with intervention teachers on how to impact the struggling readers,” Campbell said. “In year three, we develop a coach in each building, as our goal is for the schools to be self-sustaining.”

Michael Cole, who is heading CSCOE’s fundraising campaign to expand Believe and Read, said he has a special empathy for children who struggle to read.

“I was one of those kids well over 55 years ago, and I’ve done volunteer work at the high school level to help kids catch up,” Cole said. “Every year literacy issues are left unchecked, the problem intensifies.

“I am fueled by the sacredness of this cause; God has his hands all over this. Let’s be spiritual warriors and see if we can annihilate illiteracy in our Catholic schools.”

Frank Miley, president of CDH, notes that preparing students to succeed in every level of education is core to the school’s mission.

“CDH is not normally in the business of being a donor, but we are excited to support CSCOE and Groves with Believe and Read as a socially responsible investment for our future students as well as the archdiocese,” Miley said.

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