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Meeting a Need to Read

Eight years ago, more than 80 percent of U.S. children living in poverty were not meeting grade-level standards in reading. That statistic didn't sit well with Whitworth Professor of Education Lisa Laurier.

While on sabbatical from Whitworth, Laurier offered to work for the Mead School District for free. She identified that intervention efforts would be more effective if more resources were made available to support Title I teachers.

"I was blessed with advanced education in reading difficulties, including their causes and best practices for intervention," Laurier says. "It is my obligation to use that gift to serve others."

Laurier created Whitworth's Professional Development School program, similar to the model used to train medical doctors. Laurier's education students practice reading intervention with her at Evergreen Elementary in the morning, and then move into classrooms and work with a minimum of three children during the semester. This is a final field experience before their student-teaching practicum, and it follows a minimum of two additional independent field experiences.

Each Evergreen student – about 550 total – receives an average of two hours of literacy instruction a day: one hour in the main classroom and another hour in a small skills group or comprehension support group. Students receive individualized instruction based on frequent testing. The results are then input in a database that is accessible to all teachers. Laurier also provides weekly coaching, consulting and problem-solving for Evergreen's teachers.

When Laurier started the program, 139 of Evergreen's 550 students could not read at their own grade level. By the time the first group of kindergartners reached sixth grade, every one of those same students could.

"In the beginning, skill grouping was hard, time-consuming and took a lot of collaboration from all involved," says one Evergreen teacher. "Five years later, I would never imagine doing anything different. I am able to better meet the specific needs of all of my students and collaborate with my grade-level team in a manner that benefits all of our students."

A pilot of the Professional Development School program is now underway at Shiloh Hills and Brentwood elementary schools. Whitworth education professors Kathryn Picanco and Stacy Hill have joined Laurier, each placing their own Whitworth students to train in these schools.