Tutor Kathy Hastings, center, and student Grady Milburn, right, are joined by Milburn's family at a special literacy night held April 21 at Rock Hall Elementary School. The school has focused on building literacy and fostering a love of reading.
ROCK HALL — Teachers at Rock Hall Elementary School have put literacy at the forefront of students' education, instilling a love of reading early.
"I literally had a student run into me in the hall because they were reading a book while walking," said Principal Gillian Spero.
Through classroom instruction, programs and special events, students at Rock Hall Elementary School are engaged in reading.
Building that ability and fostering a love of reading is important for students early on.
"We know that by third grade, if they can't read they're going to struggle in school," Spero said.
Using the program Scholastic Reading Counts, teachers can track not just the numbers of books each student reads, but also many words.
A student in early grades may read more books, but those likely feature pages with larger pictures and shorter text. Older elementary students may read fewer books, but those longer chapter books have a lot more words.
Spero said that chapter books and novels are not limited to the upper elementary grades, though.
"By first grade, some of these students are already reading novels," she said.
Teacher Jacquelyn Walters spoke about efforts to bolster literacy in the classrooms. It is not just the instruction, but also the rooms themselves.
"Literacy-rich classrooms," she called them. Having vocabulary words and more posted around the room.
Rock Hall Elementary School's hallway is lined with book benches like this one. The benches provide students with comfortable space for independent reading and a regularly refreshed supply of books.
Another way the school is facilitating this literacy push is by expanded reading spaces for students.
Thanks to a grant awarded under then Principal Kris Hemstetter, now principal at Kent County High School, book benches line the hallways.
These pillow-topped benches provide comfortable spaces for students to enjoy reading time in school. They come complete with cubby space for holding more books.
This year, Walters set aside a dedicated 15 minutes daily for students to take a turn reading on the benches. She said she sent three or four students out at a time and the class roster would get rotated through every few days.
"They love to go out there," Walters said, adding that students get to choose their own books and the collection is updated so they have new titles available.
The school also utilizes the Sound Partners program, providing one-on-one reading support for students who may need additional help.
Walters spoke about the sense of achievement students feel when they complete the more than 100 lessons and "graduate" from Sound Partners.
"I am a huge proponent of the Sound Partners program. I think it does great things," Walters said.
Community members are involved in this literacy push as well, with volunteer readers coming into the school on Mondays.
"We've had guests come in to read," Spero said. "It's a big part of the culture of the school."
The Rock Hall Lions Club lent a hand this year, donating money to the school and ordering books and teaching supplies.
In the spring, the school hosted a Literacy Night. About 180 people attended the April 21 event that featured Brian Curry, a magician who ties his illusions to classic children's books.
The Literacy Night was open to students, families, staff members and school volunteers. Students received books and bookmarks.
The drive for literacy and building a love of reading in Rock Hall Elementary School is paying off.
There were 161 Rock Hall Elementary School students tracked in the Reading Counts program this year. The school tallied 5,567 points.
The total number of words read — more than 12.6 million.
"In the end, the success of all of our reading initiatives is that the teachers, tutors and mentors at Rock Hall Elementary School whole-heartedly believe in one another and help children develop and grow their own love of reading. They foster excitement and model the joy that it bring," Spero said. "Without their energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to be lifelong learners themselves, positive change would not occur. Our students benefit from their hard work, commitment and passion."