- Program Model: Read to Me Project is being implemented online via live presentations utilizing each classroom’s technical platform, whether Zoom or Google Meets. In some cases, Read to Me Project is part of the teacher’s schedule with the entire class. In other cases, only those students with family members ages 6 months to five years are receiving the program outside of the teacher’s online lesson schedule. Adapting to each teacher’s needs and preference is our first concern for effective program implementation with their students.
- Regarding Books: While a bin of books would normally be provided to every classroom for the students to check out and return each week, the majority of students are now provided with a “bookshelf” of e-books curated by Read to Me Project staff. Sanitized hardcopy books continue to be provided only to students who are reading to babies and toddlers. However, the expectation for the return of those books is very low. Our loss of non-returned books requires the purchase of more books to maintain an inventory of choices for the students. While this aspect will negatively impact the budget, it is imperative that we continue to put books in the hands of these children!
- Communications with Students: Without in-person access to students, challenges arose for identifying which students had little ones at home and what the names and ages of the little ones are. School district leadership and principals continue to help us with student and family communications. This support allows us to deliver the program with as little impact on the teachers’ time as possible and to gather data on the students and little ones for program measurement purposes.
- The Price of Change: We have waived our fees this year and are currently providing the program to sixty-six 4th and 5th grade classes for free. Fees average 15% of budget income. Given the essential impacts the program is making on students and little ones and value to schools, we hope (and expect) to return to charging for program services for the 2021/2022 school year.
We are adjusting to each new COVID-driven circumstance and documenting everything that has been done. By the end of this current school year, in preparation for the 2021/2022 school year, we will know what happened in each district, school, and classroom. With each program coordinator’s records showing what was tried and how well it worked, we will further adapt as necessary to keep the best of what we did this year, drop what hasn’t worked as we had hoped, and create new elements to make the Read to Me Project the best it can be.
The students Read to Me Project works with are attending low performing classes. These children started school behind, but they have been improving on standard assessment scores as a result of participating in the program.
In addition to remediating student literacy levels, it is our mission to prevent low literacy by reaching young children in their homes during the crucial first five years of their lives. We also work with parents to ensure their understanding that learning begins at birth and that 85% of brain development occurs from birth to age five. And, we provide parents with practical tips and tools for increasing their children’s literacy during their daily interactions.
Keeping our students from falling further behind during these unprecedented times has been a significant challenge for every school, every teacher, and the Read to Me Project. Working with students online is not ideal for most teachers to teach, or for most children to learn. In addition, many Read to Me Project families live in the County’s most COVID-dangerous neighborhoods, often without the kind of internet access that allows students to learn online simultaneously. We cannot let these children slip away from becoming fully literate, well-educated, productive, and successful citizens who ultimately contribute back to their families and communities. There is much work to do and we are proud to report, we have risen to the challenge.
1. Program Models
As a result of school closures in March, Read to Me Project staff quickly adapted program implementation logistics to continue the final coaching sessions for the 2019/2020 school year and provide (sanitized) books to students to read to the little ones at home. We immediately produced five instructional videos that were distributed to teachers late April through May to be shown during online sessions with their students. Teacher responses were enthusiastically appreciative.
Since the traditional in-class program model remains impossible for the current 2020/2021 school year, live online presentations have been our recourse.
In preparation, we hired a team of experienced, tech-savvy educators with proven abilities to truly engage students online. Our program coordinators employ creative ways to make the kids want to turn on their cameras, pay attention and learn during their Read to Me Project coaching sessions.
Our program is delivered in collaboration with the teachers both during synchronous class time when all students are logged in together with the teacher, and also during asynchronous class times, when only our participating student readers log in to our program. In most cases, the full class of students are receiving the lessons with special sessions just with those reading to little ones for further coaching and problem-solving. And because the needs of our educational partners continue to evolve, there may be other variations on our program models yet to come.
2. Regarding the Books
For this year’s new online program model, we needed to change how we provide books to our student readers. During a normal year in the classroom, students select and check out a book to take home for a week, read it aloud to their young family members as they have been coached to
do, then bring it back to their classroom to be exchanged with a different book to read to the little over the next week.
This is not practicable with students learning from home, nor will it be safe until COVID-19 comes under control. One compromise solution has been to subscribe to a customized selection of e-books through Scholastic for students reading to little ones ages 3-kindergarten. The benefits are that e-
books are cheaper, books aren’t lost, and at any given time every student can access a “bookshelf” of selections curated for quality, age of the little one being read to, and each student’s and little one’s particular interests.
For students reading to babies and toddlers however, we are insisting on hardcopy books. To minimize risk, we have bought a supply of book bags, one color for babies and another for toddlers, and filled each bag with eight curated books, which students keep at home to read to their Little Ones. The children are to receive a new supply of bagged books in January. Any books that are returned by the students are put way to sanitize. We suspect we may lose more books this year than are typically not returned during any pre-COVD year. We hope that the books that are not returned become cherished gifts to home libraries.
Our expected loss of non-returned books will require the purchase of more books than normal to maintain an inventory of choices for the students. While this aspect will negatively impact the budget, it is imperative that we continue to put books in the hands of these children!
3. Communications with Students and Other Adaptions in Response to Covid-19
Meanwhile, the program models outlined above have additional operational requirements for identifying eligible students – meaning those with young siblings at home. We normally would meet the students in their classroom and ask who has a younger family member at home between the
ages of 6 months and 5 years. To access the students’ answers, we needed a special district email address for Read to Me Project so that we can work securely with students when the teacher cannot be present. Fortunately, now in our tenth year, we have developed the reputation and the relationships that make that possible. District leadership and principals are working with us to solve student and family communication issues as they arise, so we can deliver our program with as little impact on a teacher’s time as possible.
4. The Price of Change
Considering Read to Me Project’s years of significant impacts on elementary school students and pre-kindergarten aged little ones in low literacy families, last January 2020 RtMP had decided to increase its annual school fees from $700 per classroom to $750. However, the schools’ COVID-
related expenses increased to keep their students safe and healthy by means of distance learning methods, staggered schedules, and enhanced classroom cleanings. For this reason, we have waived our fees this year and are currently providing the program to sixty-six 4th and 5th grade
classes for free. Pending additional funding provided by grants and donations from businesses and individuals, we plan to serve more classrooms free of charge this year and potentially next year.
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