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Reading First program nears end

NATCHEZ — After a five-year run, the Reading First program will come to an end in the Natchez-Adams School District, but West Primary Reading Coach Annie Barnes said teachers will continue to use the program’s strategies.

The grant program was implemented at West Primary, Frazier Primary and McLaurin Elementary, and it will officially conclude at the end of September.

The program revealed significant improvements in kindergarten classes last year.

One set of scores tested initial letter sound.

At the beginning of the school year, 33 percent of kindergarteners were considered “at risk.” When students were tested mid-year, 2 percent were “at risk.”

Another set of scores tested letter naming.

At the beginning of the year, 21 percent of kindergarteners were considered “at risk.” At the end of the year, 4 percent were “at risk.”

Barnes said the grant issued approximately $300,000 to Frazier, $150,000 to McLaurin and $150,000 to West the first year of the program, and the funding decreased each year after.

The grant paid salaries for reading coaches, interventionists and tutors at the start of the five-year run, but has not in recent years. The grant also paid for curriculum supplies.

Barnes said the research-based nature of the Reading First system is a big advantage.

Barnes said the strongest feature of the program is its focus on phonemic awareness and phonics, Barnes said.

Phonemic awareness is the sound a letter makes. For instance, Barnes said if she showed a picture of a baseball bat and asked what it starts with, the child should say the “buh” sound.

Phonics relates more to the sound of words and often involves skills such as rhyming.

Barnes said kindergarten teachers will continue to use the strategy of focusing on phonemics and phonics.

Another element of the program Barnes said teachers will try to keep up is the weekly staff development and peer coaching sessions.

She said the grant allowed teachers and reading coaches to purchase books and other reading materials. They also attained a “listening center,” which lets children listen to a book on tape while reading along.

While kindergarten classes exceeded their test score goals last year, grades one through three did not.

According to a report on the Natchez-Adams School District Reading First program, the lower school students may not have done as well in part due to absences, tardiness and the number of transfer students.

Barnes said kindergarteners were more likely to soak up the benefits of the program because their brains are like sponges at their age.

“They were eager to learn,” Barnes said.

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