Creating critical readers: ES School District starts 2018-19 year with new curriculum

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Eureka Springs School District is turning a new page this year, introducing the American Reading Company (ARC) Literacy Lab curriculum to grades K-8.

Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the curriculum cost $250,000, and Eureka Springs is the only school district in Arkansas to use the program.

“It is expensive. That may be the reason we’re the only school in Arkansas using it,” Pruitt said. “Test scores are important, but the most important thing is to make our kids excited about learning. We want to give them the best tools possible, and we felt like this company had it.”

Elementary school principal Clare Lesieur said she helped form a task force last year to research different literacy programs before choosing ARC Literacy Lab. What sets ARC Literacy Lab apart from other curriculums, Lesieur said, is the focus on using critical reading to move from one skill level to the next.

“It’s an integrated curriculum, so it brings in our science and social studies as well as writing,” Lesieur said. “There’s a lot of research involved, and it’s project based.”

Middle school principal Cindy Holt said the curriculum will help support science and social studies components already present at the middle school.

“It’s going to be a total integration of that reading and social studies,” Holt said. “For us, it’s a support piece, because nonfiction texts have to be read differently, and it helps students hone those skills.”

The curriculum is split into four units, Lesieur said, based on certain themes. She explained how important it is to assess each student’s reading level, saying that’s one of the best ways to track progress.

“There are tubs of books for the students to do their independent research and their independent reading,” Lesieur said. “They will identify their reading level, and they’ll work out of that tub.”

“But the idea is not to keep them in that tub,” Holt said. “It’s to work through that to keep moving up. It’s about assessment and reassessment to keep them working at their own level.”

The teachers will work with the students through small group instruction, Lesieur said.

“All the core instruction takes place two reading levels above that grade level, so when the teacher’s teaching, the students are learning by listening to more complex texts,” Lesieur said.

The best component of the curriculum, Holt said, is the way professional development works. Holt said an ARC Literacy Lab representative will continually visit classrooms to work with teachers and students.

“We’re going to get a lot of professional development,” Holt said. “You can have a good tool, but if you’re not really instructed how to use that tool properly, it’s not as effective.”

The students have worked well with the math and science curriculum at the middle school, Holt said.

“The kids have responded so well to that, so we feel confident this will be another success story, as well,” Holt said.

Even though his students won’t be using the curriculum, high school principal David Gilmore said he’s excited to see instruction so streamlined at the elementary and middle schools.

“In education, it’s a bottom-up approach,” Gilmore said. “If they can keep a kid on grade level when it comes to reading, my job is so much easier. When they get to the high school, we can provide a much more rigorous education for that student.”

At the high school, Gilmore said, each student will have access to their own Chromebook this year. The students will check out the devices at the beginning of the year, Gilmore said, and return them in May. That means students can take their Chromebook home, Gilmore said.

“It’s basically like a library book. This is going to be their resource. This is going to jbe their tool,” Gilmore said. “They can use it for their online curriculum at school. They can use it to research at home.”

The students will use the same Chromebook from freshman to senior year, Gilmore said.

“It’s to their advantage to take really good care of it,” Gilmore said. “That device could be a huge benefit.”

Even if students don’t have internet access at home, Pruitt said, wireless internet is becoming common in certain public places.

“All our kids are going to be at McDonald’s,” Pruitt laughed. “Everything is online. Everything has to do with technology in this day and age, so it’s critical we are 1:1 on that.”

ARC Literacy Labs has a technology component, too. Holt said students will apply their skills using computer programs, teaching students how to use technology as soon as possible.

“We aren’t native users, because we weren’t born in that generation,” Holt said. “But our students are, and they don’t relate to material items without that final application on computers. They have to have that to hook them. That’s how their brains are working.”

Pruitt said he’s excited about the upcoming school year, saying ARC Literacy Labs is worth every penny.

“It’s expensive, but can you put a price on education?” Pruitt said. “No, you can’t. If our kids grow and they increase their test scores and it makes them more productive and better citizens, you cannot put a price on that.”

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