Video wins praise, cash for school
BY TERENCE MCGINLEY, STAFF WRITER, CLIFTON JOURNAL
CLIFTON — The hallways at School 11 are filled with dozens of paper stars dangling from the ceiling. On the stars are written the names of the members of the Galaxy Club members, an award-winning reading initiative created by Principal Theresa Evans.
With the help of her staff, Evans edited an interactive slideshow "Blast Off into Reading." The 3-minute clip was named a people's choice winner of the Follett Challenge and will garner $5,000 in prizes for the school.
For three years Follett School Solutions has "provided a forum for K-12 schools from around the country to share inspiring stories of how their innovative programs are preparing students for the demands of the 21st century," according to a press release.
School 11 finished in the top 10 out of 103 applicants. The video finished with more than 1,300 views.
One of those views came from 8,000 miles away in South Africa.
Earlier this month Evans received an email from Marion Mackinnon, headmistress of St. Benedict's Junior Preparatory School in the Gauteng province, not far from Johannesburg. Mackinnon is interested in the approach to reading taking pace at School 11.
"The aspect of the video that appealed to me was that is was very clear that the process of reading was alive and well, as opposed to an isolated desk activity slotted into the timetable," Mackinnon said in an email to the Clifton Journal. "One gets the sense that reading is integrated into every facet of learning with such great variety of approaches, appealing to every interest level and learning style."
"It is a great honor that somebody from across the world acknowledged our program," Evans said.
"It is always exciting to make unexpected connections across the world, the internet has made that possible," Mackinnon said.
The Galaxy Club at School 11 is based on the Standardize Testing for the Assessment of Reading (STAR) enterprise. Each student is given his or her own reading level, and STAR analyzes growth and reading comprehension. If a student is 85 percent efficient in reading comprehension at their level, they are inducted into the galaxy club.
Those stars hang for all to see. The names are in bold letters. What's more, every once in a while galaxy club members get an ice cream in the cafeteria.
The incentive program has worked and 240 out of 325 students are in the club. That number is up from 83 two years ago, when Evans established the club after arriving from School 4, where she was assistant principal.
"You have to get kids motivated and reading for the rights reasons," Evans said.
Evans emphasizes the importance of increasing reading stamina in her students, not just interest.
"Kids might consider it dry, but it's important," she said.
There is standard DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read) for 25 minutes a day. If a student finishes a test or quiz early, they grab a book. All books in the media center and classrooms are labeled with a reading level, as they are throughout the district.
Evans even said that the increase in reading has cut down disciplinary issues in the school.
Even with so many of her students digesting a high percentage of their reading material, Evans said there is still a lot of work to do, particularly at home.
"We need parents to get involved," she said. "Read with your kids at home. Finish the job that we have started."
According to the number provided by the state Department of Education, 47 percent of School 11 students do not use English as a primary language at home. Evans said that should not be an obstacle.
"Kids can read to the parents," she said.
"I watch 'SpongeBob' with my 9-year-old. After I ask him 'what was it about?' Then I make him write four or five sentences describing the plot," She said. "There are many ways to engage kids. I don't ever want to hear a student answer a question with 'I don't know'."
After lunch, students who accomplished their goals get ice cream and those who fell short return to their classroom.
"They do not get ice cream. Everybody is given the same opportunity to read at the best of their own ability," she said. "It is not about who is the smartest, it is about academic responsibility," she said.
While the STAR enterprise focuses on reading comprehension, students answer in multiple choice format and are not required to write. Evans recognizes writing as another invaluable faculty and has devised a program to strengthen that as well.
Long gone are the days of meeting at the flag pole after school. When a student has an issue with a peer, they are required to write a conflict resolution report.
"And they cannot just write the problem. There has to be a beginning, middle and end,' she said.
Follett School Solutions is an Illinois-based company that provides schools around the country with physical and digital school supplies and services. School 11 was one of three New Jersey schools to finish in the top 10 of the Follett Challenge. Wayne and Fair Lawn submitted successful videos as well.
Doug Thompson is the media spokesman for Follett and said School 11 can use the $5,000 on any of the products the company offers, including books, chrome books and software.
As the district gradually adheres to the Common Core State Standards there is an emphasis on technology and a 21st century education that prepares students for a competitive global economy.
PARCC assessments, which are to replace the NJ ASK next year, are taken on computers. The state encourages a one to one ratio of devices to students.
To watch the video "Blast Off Into Reading" visit www.follettchallenge.com and scroll to the bottom of the page.