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July/August 2022

Practical PR: From Board Room to Classroom, District 303 Supports Literacy

By Carol L. Smith with contributions from Rebecca Jordahl and Christine Hittmeier

Located in Kane County, St. Charles CUSD 303 serves 12,000 PK-12 students in 17 buildings spread across 54 square miles. Mem-bers of the District 303 community from the classroom to the boardroom are making a concerted effort to support literacy as stu-dents matriculate through the system. 

Much of the conversation over the last year has been about learning loss during the pandemic. But educators have long been chal-lenged by summer learning loss or setback. Often referred to as the “summer slide,” it is a devastating loss of academic achievement students experience during the summer months when they can lose up to two months of reading achievement, according to a 2009 study by Brenda McLaughlin and Smink in 2009. Research by Karl L. Alexander, Doris R. Entwisle, and Linda Steffel Olson sug-gests that two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between high-low socioeconomic statuses in ninth-graders can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school, and one-third of the gap is present before students begin school. The body of summer learning research demonstrates the critical importance of developing summer reading habits that can combat summer learning loss and provide a foundation for academic success.

In District 303, to combat potential learning loss, the school board has supported literacy efforts through allocation of resources for personnel including reading specialists and instructional support coaches in all elementary and middle schools.

Reading specialists support literacy in the district in a variety of ways. They work with the most striving student readers through explicit small group interventions. Teachers become the students when reading specialists provide coaching and model lessons when new resources have been implemented. This gives teachers the tools they need to work alongside students and provide meaningful lessons that can also be used by students when they practice independently.

When the school board also approved extended release time at all levels, the expectation was that the time would be used for staff to engage in professional learning as well as data analysis and response. The additional time increased opportunities to build back-ground knowledge of teachers to address the shifts in instruction as they related to the sciences of reading.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the school board allocated $5,000 per elementary school earmarked for improving classroom li-braries. Students need a basic understanding of concepts/knowledge and a toolbox of comprehension strategies in order to construct meaning, make connections, and develop new ideas. Teachers built diverse collections that incorporated current and engaging texts aimed at sparking student interest in a variety of topics and increasing comprehension. A community partnership with the St. Charles Public Library also offers families a way to access diverse materials.

The St. Charles Public Library encourages students to participate in its summer reading program. Students log their reading hours and receive a badge for every 100 minutes logged. Once they reach 1,000 minutes, the Library gives them book-related prizes. Dur-ing the summer of 2021, PK-8th grade students in St. Charles read 978,524 minutes. The school district and Library continue to market the summer reading program and encourage all District 303 students to participate.

One of the most important things that parents can do over the summer to help decrease reading leaning loss is to read with their children, provide opportunities for children to read alone, and find ways to make it engaging. Reading together gives parents the opportunity to have in-depth conversations with their children about the text that may increase a child’s desire to learn more about the topic. 

In District 303, the school board has shown its commitment to reading by allocating funds for personnel, professional develop-ment, and many types of materials such texts-picture books, graphic novels, digital books, fiction and nonfiction, and series books that make reading fun and exciting for students.

Carol L. Smith is INSPRA Past President and was Director of Communications and Community Relations and contributors Rebecca Jordahl and Christine Hittmeier are Reading Specialists, at St. Charles CUSD 303.