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Reading to success: Chamberlain school implements new reading program

Chamberlain second-grade students work on reading skills during the school's Walk to Read time on Thursday afternoon. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic) 1 / 4
Chamberlain Elementary School Principal Rocky Almond speaks about the inviting atmosphere of the school's library on Thursday in the library in Chamberlain. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)2 / 4
A student searches for a book in the Chamberlain Elementary School Library on Thursday. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)3 / 4
Chamberlain Elementary School Library Assistant Lonnie Almond helps a student check out a book on Thursday afternoon. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic) 4 / 4

CHAMBERLAIN — The Chamberlain School District is pulling out all the stops to ensure its students are robust readers.

In August, the Chamberlain Elementary School first- and second-grade classrooms implemented Walk to Read, an innovative reading intervention program that allows students to work at an individualized pace in a unique and inviting atmosphere. The program is modeled after a similar intervention program at Fred Assam Elementary School in Brandon.

In its first semester, Walk to Read has already been a huge success, Elementary Principal Rocky Almond said. And if the trend continues, he hopes it spreads to all elementary classrooms.

"We are seeing results already — immediately scores started climbing and they're reaching standards," Almond said, adding teachers don't tell students what level they are in. "They never feel inferior and nobody's labeled."

Based on certain test scores that evaluate reading proficiency, students are broken into four groups and assigned a teacher who facilitates the program for an hour each day. Once in their group, students rotate among various stations focusing on skills such as spelling, writing, reading aloud and listening to audiobooks. The hour-long Walk to Read program supplements normal reading classes.

Each week, students are tested to ensure they are making progress and determine if they need to move up or down a level.

Initially, the room housing below-benchmark reading students was nearly full, but has shrunk considerably as students improve and move up levels. The goal, Almond said, is to have all students able to read at or above their grade level.

But that takes a "big commitment" from the teachers involved, proven by the amount of work the first- and second-grade teachers have put in to make the program a success, he said.

"Something like this, it can't work if your teachers aren't in it 100 percent and they all are," Almond said. "I can't give them enough credit. They make my job easy."

Second-grade teacher Cassie Pearson said Walk to Read's success is partially because it is engaging for students and allows them to experience different teachers' perspectives, rather than staying with one teacher all day.

"On days we don't have (Walk to Read), they're disappointed and that's half the battle, getting them excited to learn," Pearson said. "We hope by the end of the year we can show marked improvement with the kids."

Down the hall a bit sits another room in which students are showing more interest in reading, according to Chamberlain Superintendent Deb Johnson.

Once with barren walls and a lackadaisical sorting system, the elementary library wasn't necessarily a haven for young readers.

But since Susan Reid took over librarian duties at the beginning of the school year, the space has transformed into a colorful abode for hundreds of children's books. Reid made it her mission to ensure the library is a kid-friendly space where children feel welcomed, which helps spark their interest, she said.

"The teachers do the heavy lifting in teaching how to read, but the other side of that is the loving to read and having that passion for books," Reid said. "We want this to be the place where kids want to go and for reading to be the thing they want to do."