Here’s what data and experience tell us about closing the word gap and helping West Virginia students to succeed, says Christy Schwartz, of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading:
— Keep reading aloud to children from birth to adolescence, and keep educating families about the need to do it. Reading aloud does more for vocabulary development than talking with them, which is also good.
— Encourage teachers to read to students daily.
“If children are responding well to a book you’re reading, encourage them to find another in the series, in that genre or by the same author that the teacher might read with them,” she said.
Daily read aloud puts children almost a year ahead of children who are not read to every day, literacy specialist Christy Schwartz told a room full of Read Aloud West Virginia volunteers at their fifth annual conference in July.
Schwartz works for the state Department of Education’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading. She and her colleagues support county school systems and teachers to ensure children are reading on grade level by third grade. They focus on school readiness, attendance, learning opportunities outside of school and high-quality instruction.
“I’m really excited by all the connections and the way that our work corresponds with one another,” she told representatives from local Read Aloud chapters meeting at Stonewall Resort July 23 and 24.
Read Aloud leaders were there to connect and share ideas and inspiration for the coming school year. This annual summit has proven to be an invaluable gathering for the organization and its local groups.
Schwartz reminded volunteers of the need they fill.
West Virginia has high rates of poverty, and years of research confirm that poverty is a risk factor for many problems, including poor school readiness. Education researchers have zeroed in on oral language skills.
“It is the foundation for literacy,” Schwartz said.
The fourth annual Read Aloud Conference will be held July 24-25 at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, West Virginia. As in prior years, Read Aloud West Virginia will pay for two representatives from each county chapter to attend the conference, but more may attend at personal or county expense. Information on this year’s conference has been sent to county chapter leadership, along with a pre-conference survey for registering attendees and seeking input for the content of the conference.
This event offers the only chance each year for representatives from all participating county chapters to gather together and share successes, failures, ideas, plans, and challenges, and to prepare for the year ahead. With 30 West Virginia counties participating in Read Aloud, it is likely that there are 30 different projects, approaches, or ideas being used. West Virginians have always been creative, and this is as true when promoting a love of reading as it is anywhere else. Many participants in past years have reported leaving the conference energized and freshly motivated, with new ideas and partners (both within and outside their county) identified.
In addition to the networking and collaborative opportunities, Read Aloud West Virginia uses the conference to distribute support materials, such as updates to the Read Aloud Resource Kit and new posters or pamphlets, and to introduce other materials being developed for “testing” during the upcoming year. Finally, the conference provides an opportunity for Read Aloud West Virginia to acquaint county chapters with other organizations or programs working to improve reading readiness and literacy, where opportunities for additional collaboration or partnerships at the local level may exist.
The conference will begin at noon on Monday and end around 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday. So, county leadership, be sure to identify and register the two (or more!) representatives from your chapter who will attend this year!
Melody Simpson is an attorney at Bowles Rice LLP, a volunteer reader and a member of the Read Aloud West Virginia board and newsletter committee.
Representatives from local Read Aloud chapters across West Virginia met at Stonewall Resort July 25 and 26 to connect and share ideas and inspiration for the coming school year. This marked the third year for the Summit, which has proven to be an invaluable gathering for the organization and its local groups.
The conference addressed best practices for administering Read Aloud’s programs, which fall into four major categories: Volunteer Readers, Book Distribution, Classroom Enrichment and Parent Education. The needs and expectations of local chapters were addressed through presentations as well as group discussion.
Read Aloud staff and board members have been encouraged each year by the commitment of the organization’s volunteers and the impact the conference has had on local chapters. Here are some of the comments received from attendees after the conference this year:
“The conference was exceptional this year. It was well planned and all went smoothly. So much great information was shared by all. I can’t begin to say enough good things about the conference.”
“Excellent conference! Every moment was well invested. The Charleston team is outstanding!”
“A very pleasant experience that energized me for the coming year! Thank you for a conference well planned.”
“Enjoyed it very much. Enjoyed meeting other Read Aloud volunteers. Received a lot of good, useful information.”
A generous contribution from Read Aloud supporters Katharine and W. Marston Becker helped make the 2016 Read Aloud Summit possible. The organization is grateful to the Beckers for their support, to the staff of Stonewall Resort for their excellent hospitality and to its chapter leaders and volunteers for their incredible dedication to raising a state full of readers.