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Teachers prepare to implement Alabama Reading Initiative

Before a teacher can effectively teach a student to read, he or she must understand how a child learns, and have the tools and methods available to address each student's needs individually.

More than 80 teachers and administrators from Butler County have been working over the last several months to bring the Alabama Reading Initiative to the county, and last spring W.O. Parmer Elementary School and R.L. Austin Elementary School were both chosen as two of only 241 demonstration sites in the state for this two-year-old program designed to increase literacy.

For the past two weeks, these teachers and administrators have been attending the required workshops necessary to implement the Reading Initiative, and are now ready to bring what they've learned into the classroom.

Alabama was among the first states in the nation to develop a program geared toward providing teachers with new instructional techniques based on research into how children learn. Under the program, teachers are trained at the ARI workshops in activities, programs and methods which are guided by findings from the best available scientifically based research in phonemic awareness, systematic phonics, reading comprehension, fluency, the reading writing connection and reading motivation.

Butler County BOE

Federal Programs Cooordinator Gerry Adair said the establishment of the demonstration sites has been funded through a competitive Reading Excellence Grant of more than $190,000 last spring. These funds have been used to cover the cost of the teacher training and will also purchase the necessary supplies to properly administer the program. As part of the Reading Initiative, programs will be established to extend the learning time through after-school turtoring, provide early language intervention strategies for kindergarten students, increase family involvement, provide reading specialists, and promote partnerships with community agencies and organizations. The goal of the Alabama Reading Initiative is to have 100 percent of all children reading at their appropriate grade level by grade three.

For all of those involved, understanding how the Reading Initiative works, learning its programs and bringing those methods back to the classroom has been a lot of work. Second grade teachers Margaret Phillips and Wanda Norris were among the teachers who attended the recent training seminar in Andalusia. Each seemed excited about the ARI program and said it will be a strong addition to the cirriculum in Butler County schools.

"What we've learned over the last two-weeks has made me look back at the students I have had in the past and it makes me wish I had these tools then to intervene in a more effective manner," Mrs. Phillips said.

However, she also said the program will take some time to fully implement.

"This is not something we can do in one year; this is something that will take two to three years to fully incorporate," she said.

Mrs. Phillips said ARI includes individual assesments of all students and the development of learning programs based on the needs of each individual child. She said the program will help her better understand where each child is having trouble, and can help him or her overcome these problems one at a time.

Mrs. Norris

echoed the sentiments of her co-worker, and said the ARI program will help them all become better teachers in all subjects.

"I think we're going to be much more effective teachers because we've focused not just on helping those students who are struggling, but also on helping those students who are not struggling to advance on their own," Mrs. Norris said. "So we're not just helping the students who need help, but we're helping all students learn to read and write better from the very beginning."

She said the extra effort in implementing ARI now will be well worth the trouble in the future.

"I think this has helped us all raise our expectations of our students," Mrs. Norris said. "And it has given us the tools to help the students achieve those expectations."