New teachers, new program to help St. Peter kids excel at reading
St. Peter Catholic School will be operating this year with three newer teachers and one new pre-kindergarten reading program, "Happily Ever After."
The brand-new teachers are Gina Sandwith and Sarah Lonaker. Charity Eidson, who is piloting the new reading program in her pre-kindergarten class, served at St. Peter for the second half of the last school year.
"It's interesting, as a newer teacher, the different hats you wear -- you're the teacher, you're the janitor, you're the caretaker," said Eidson. "It's fun and interesting to fit into that and meet the needs of the children."
Sandwith, who spent 17 years at Raggedy Ann & Andy, a preschool in Marshall, said comparing her experiences at the two schools was like "comparing apples and oranges," as they had different parents volunteering with a class each day.
"Here," added Eidson, "we have a Foster Grandparent Program, where the same (volunteer) 'grandparent' helps out in a class every day."
All three are firm believers in doing a lot of reading with their children.
"The three-year-olds love their ABCs," said Lonaker. "We could literally say them a hundred times a day."
"Having books read is a really big thing," Sandwith said. "They love books and love to have books read to them."
Though the teachers try to work the books they read in with whatever unit the class is studying, Sandwith summed it up by saying, "We read good literature … Everything from Caldecott Award-winning books to 'trade books.'"
"We make it a point to read to the children at least two times a day," said Eidson. "Sometimes, the reading times last eight to 10 minutes. If you're having a good day, the children will stay still that long, but sometimes, the book really only lasts three minutes."
"Each new day offers a new opportunity for learning. Sometimes you have something planned, and then something comes along that is a better teaching moment," Sandwith said. "You have to be flexible."
"That's an understatement," laughed Lonaker.
The "Happily Ever After" program is developed by the Rowland Reading Foundation, and is a precursor to their "The Superkids" set of reading programs, which are designed for children in kindergarten through second grade. "Happily Ever After" was created for four- and five-year-olds.
"We think it'll make a big difference with preschoolers in preparing them for kindergarten," said Principal Gary Littrell. "Of course, we won't know until we've done this for a year and compared these kids with kids who didn't have the program."
"If we like it and it works well, we hope to move it up to kindergarten, first, and second grade, eventually," Littrell said.
Littrell first heard of the program during a meeting of principals in the Diocese of Jefferson City where two women from the Rowland Reading Association gave a presentation on the program.
"I thought to myself, 'If I can get (my pre-kindergarteners to learn this) my kindergarteners will be farther along,'" said Littrell.
"We're always looking to continually upgrade all our programs," he added. "This is a documented program that provides formalized reading instruction, which I hope gets pre-kindergarteners off to a good start and progresses on through."
The thing Littrell found most immediately interesting about the program was that it had both "oral language development and instructional concepts and vocabulary in a formal, structured, (progressive) program. I thought 'that's what we need.'"
This program also focuses on, among other things, recognition and naming of letters as well as eight shapes and 10 colors and "emergent writing through children's dictation," as listed in a pamphlet produced by the Rowland Reading Association.
This "children's dictation" teaches early writing skills by having a teacher ask questions such as, "Who is the main character?" and "What did he do?" Students then write their answers.
Eidson said that the program works to identify how a child learns, such as audio, visual and kinesthetic, or tactile, learners.
"I believe it will be successful," said Eidson of the program. "If there's one thing the children enjoy, it's being read to and discussing a story."
The program is "built around 10 pieces of classic children's literature," Eidson said, such as "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."
"I'm excited to pilot the program," said Eidson.
St. Peter will be the only school in the Jefferson City Diocese to pilot the program this year, and will do so in only one of their two pre-kindergarten classes.
Littrell, who has spent 36 years in the education field, said, "In my way of thinking, the most important subject we can teach kids is reading. If you can read, you can teach yourself anything. We've got a lot of self-taught people out there, but they can all read. There are very few things in this world you can do today if you can't read."
"We're here for the kids and to help them. If it's going to be good for them, we're going to do it if it's at all humanly possible," he added.