School launches reading program

For students at one Williamsport Area School District building, reading now means more than just school work.

The Stevens Primary School’s READS program, a literacy initiative that encourages independent reading for children in kindergarten through third grade, was launched at a school assembly Wednesday afternoon.

Reading is “a powerful predictor of achievement,” said Susie Bigger, the district’s Title 1 director.

“If we can inspire (reading) early, the chances are better that we will build lifelong readers,” she said.

READS, which stands for “Read Everyday, Achieve, Discover, Succeed” is a partnership between the Williamsport Area School District Education Foundation, the district’s Title 1 program and Brodart Inc.

The initiative is meant to enhance the reading curriculum already in place at the school by promoting 60 minutes of reading per day, between time spent both at school and at home.

Children choose their own books from the school library, organized into grade-appropriate divisions, with a good mix of “fun” books and ones that fall within their zone of development, said Stevens Principal Kirk Felix.

It was important to let the students decide for themselves what to read, rather than having them assigned, Bigger said.

“Choice is a huge motivator” in getting children to read more, she said. “It’s really the hook.”

As they read, students maintain logs to keep track of what they’re reading and how much time they spend on it.

Kindergarten and first-grade students maintain “Reading Trackers,” which include the title and author of the book and how many pages they read and on what date.

Second- and third-grade students maintain “Thinkmarks,” which include the same information, but also have spaces for vocabulary words – either new ones that they learned or ones that they need help understanding – and a short summary of the book.

Parents or guardians must sign off on the reading logs in order for them to be eligible for a drawing held every other week, in which students can win small prizes, such as books or literacy-themed board games and toys – what Bigger called “extrinsic rewards that we hope will lead to intrinsic motivation.”

Involvement by parents or any adult, such as those who help at after-school programs, is crucial for reading comprehension, especially at a young age, Felix said.

“The greatest gift you can give a child is dedicating time to something like this,” Felix said.

Bigger, Felix and Greg Hayes, executive director of the district’s education foundation, credited Brodart for getting the program off the ground.

“The only reason we have this program is because of Brodart,” Bigger said. “It’s not something that would normally be written into a budget.”

The company donated the funds through the Earned Income Tax Credit program, which awards tax credits to companies that donate funds to scholarship or educational organizations.

Donating to READS is “a continuation of Brodart’s involvement with community improvement,” said Chief Financial Officer Rick Dill

“We’ve been participating in the (EITC) program for many years,” Dill said. “It’s our chance to make an impact, to put money to work locally.”

Dill, who believes that schools “can always benefit from focused reading programs,” met with Hayes to determine an area in which the district could benefit from the funds that also met certain criteria.

“Projects done with (EITC) credits have to be innovative in nature and have to enhance the current curriculum,” Hayes said.

The funds went toward prizes, supplies and a backpack for each student that contains a reading log, pencil and their first book.

“Because of what we do, we feel very strongly about literacy and education,” Dill said.

The district has high hopes for the program, which will continue until the end of the school year, and what it encourages.

“Reading is so important,” said Sarah Bohnert, district supervisor of elementary libraries, who attended the assembly. “It’s such a conduit for learning.”