Danville Public Schools are tackling literacy concerns head-on. Some teachers are getting a free degree which allows them to become reading specialists. The free ride pays off big for students. Not a day goes by at Schoolfield Elementary School in Danville, where students aren’t a priority. Pamela Seal teaches first grade. She says, “I just love being with children.” Pamela has taught at Schoolfield for seven years. She knows the ups, the downs, the highs, and the lows. “I do see struggles when they come to 1st grade that they do not know all their letters. They don’t know their sounds. They don’t have sight words under their belt,” she says.
Mary Seckar teaches second grade at another Danville public school. She teaches Math and Science and sees the same struggle. Mary says, “If they aren’t able to read it fluently the meaning is lost.” Reading is fundamental. It’s the bases for everything these students do in the classroom and outside of it. So the goal is to get every Danville Public School student reading on grade level.
Right now, Principal Everette Johnson says, data from the district shows, of the 540 students at his school, about a third are reading below grade level. “When students can not read they struggle and they become frustrated. We don’t want that to happen,” says Johnson. Johnson wants each student at Schoolfield Elementary to succeed, and so do Danville Public School officials. So, together, the district and Averette University did the math and divided this task to train teachers, to train students, to read.
Dr. Sue Davis, Director of Teacher Education at Averett University, says, “This program is important because it’s going to deliver high-quality instruction to local teachers who will then go back into the schools and improve student learning and achievement and the literacy skills for their students.” Fifteen teachers from the school district get a free ride to a get Master’s Degree in Education. They learn strategies on how to teach reading, how to diagnose issues, as well as, train for exceptional students. All tuition is paid to become Title I Reading Specialists.
“Title I one teachers help with that child who is really struggling. They’re (students) pulled out so they get that small group instruction,” says Pamela.
Both Mary and Pamela have a semester under their belt. They’re already seeing positive results. Mary says, “I recently completed one project and incorporated different literacy concepts to see how students would respond. Not only did they comprehend it, but they were also able to talk about it and answer high-level questions and discuss them.” The students get it. “Seeing when the children grasp a skill or concept and that smile they have they understand what they have gotten,” says Mary. “Just watching them learn and grow, it’s such a rewarding job.” The rewards of reading and achieving. It’s a win-win for everyone; the district, the teachers, and definitely the students. The teachers are selected through a lottery. They must stay with Danville Public Schools for at least three years after graduation. The first group of teachers will graduate next May.