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Wilson Reading Program Gives First-Graders an 'Early' Boost
Jean Babisch helps a student stuck on a word in her Early Success class at
Wilson Elementary School. Photo by Bruce Halmo/The Sheboygan Press

Three times a week, several Wilson Elementary School first-graders meet in Jean Babisch's classroom, members of a special reading program that's designed to improve their comprehension, oral reading and even self-confidence.

The program, Early Success, is in its ninth year, and Babisch has not only seen students' skills improve, but has had parents knock on her door, asking if their children can be a part of the group.

"I've gotten positive feedback," Babisch said."The kids want to join and parents say it helps."

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, seven students filed into Babisch's classroom after school, sat down around a table and began reading "Breakfast," the week's selection about a boy who makes himself a morning meal.

They each read a page with help from Babisch, tracing their fingers along the words, then took out lined paper and pencils and created their own sentence about what had happened in the story. Sentences like "he was pouring milk" and "he spread butter on the bread" were written slowly and carefully. It's this kind of interaction and feedback that increases comprehension and skills.

"We have a new story every week," Babisch said. "We do our writing, think what the story was about and learn how to write a correct sentence, which includes spelling, sentence endings and punctuation."

By the end of the week, students will have created their own books, based on that week's story, to bring home to read to their parents.

Two children from each of the four first-grade classrooms are chosen to participate, based on individual skill level.

"They aren't the lowest (in reading skills), but they need extra reinforcement, a little self-confidence to get them over that hump," Babisch said. Early Success also runs in the second grade classrooms, while a similar program, Soar to Success, helps third-graders.

The program runs from late September to early spring and is funded by the Sheboygan Area School District.

Kathy Winter, reading specialist for Wilson and Jackson elementary schools, has noticed progress, saying that the opportunities to work on comprehension strategies, decoding and phonics are what makes the difference.

In the group setting, Babisch is alert, working with each student as he or she comes across a difficult letter combination. One student stopped, hesitating over the "spr" sound in "spread." Together, they sounded out each letter, then combined them into the word.

"The kids are more confident," Babisch said. "They're not afraid to sound out words and make a mistake."

Babisch said that reading skills are tested for all students at Wilson Elementary, and those results are tracked to enable teachers and administrators to quickly step in to help. The fluidity of the Early Success program allows Babisch and the other teachers to bring in students as needed, releasing them when they've made the necessary progress.

"If I see kids that start out strong and, for some reason, just aren't making it, I'll put them in the program," Babisch said. "I can add and subtract as we go along."

Tom Binder, principal at Wilson Elementary, said testing covers areas like vocabulary, comprehension and fluency, which includes speed and accuracy of reading. There are 16 different reading levels a first-grader can progress through, ideally reaching level 16 by year's end.

Binder tracks how well students do on the state Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination that takes place in grades three through five.

"On that testing, over 80 percent of the children who participated in the before- or after-school program make the 'proficient' or 'advanced' levels," Binder said.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Web site, beginning with the 2005-06 school year, the federal No Child Left Behind Act required all states to test all students in reading and mathematics in grades three through eight, and once again in high school. The tests themselves use multiple-choice and short-answer questions, with students also providing a rough-draft writing sample.

Winter said that many of the students involved in specialized reading programs like Early Success have had growth in their reading scores.

"The strategies taught in the program are an extension of the reading instruction in the classroom," Winter said. "The students are more confident in their reading, and that helps their reading development progress."

Sheboygan Press Article - Deanne Schultz

Sheboygan Area School District Press Release
November 1, 2009