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Firwood Elementary staff strive to help students read at grade level

Students at Firwood Elementary, even those who are at risk of falling behind, are getting lots of chances to learn how to read at grade level. POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Students at Firwood Elementary School read to each other during a Monday morning before-school class.

Since Firwood Principal Tara Black started at the school four years ago, the school has held an after-school reading program for certain at-risk students in grades three through five who read below their grade level. This year, the program transitioned to before school.

“It just works better for our kids,” Black said, adding that now the program is before school, students aren’t as tired during their lessons and are more likely to attend.

The before-school reading program is held from for 45 minutes three days a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The program is funded through Title I and Title III grants, and is open to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students who are either from economically disadvantaged families or for whom English is their second language.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Firwood Elementary teachers use a multi-tiered approach to reading, providing addition instruction as needed on top of two hours of core reading instruction. Before-school reading program students receive an additional 45 minutes on top of the three-tiered model.

Firwood, with more than 470 students the largest elementary school in the district, comprises 49 percent economically disadvantaged students and 13 percent English learners, according to the school’s 2014-15 Oregon Department of Education report card.

“Our main focus is closing our achievement gap,” Black said. “As a school we’re really focused on making sure our students are reading at grade level.”

Black said she is proud of her school’s achievement in standardized testing for English and language arts. For the 2014-15 school year, 59.2 percent of Firwood students met or exceeded standardized testing in English language arts, more than the state average of 51.1 percent.

Firwood’s percentage also is higher than the other elementary schools in the Oregon Trail School District, with the exception of Oregon Trail Primary Academy.

Black said teachers are focused on early intervention and making sure students are reading at grade level by third grade.

“Research shows if kids aren’t at grade level by third grade, they will struggle through the rest of their school career,” Black said. “If they can read, they can do anything.”

Under Black, who has a background in English language development and literacy, teachers take a multi-tiered approach to teaching reading at Firwood Elementary.

Every student, grades K-5, receives at least 120 minutes of core reading instruction in the classroom. Students who read at a level one-half to one year below grade level, receive an additional 30 minutes of reading instruction, while students who read more than one year below grade level receive an additional 60 minutes of instruction.

Teachers also look at individualizing each student’s reading instruction and check their progress two to four times per month so they can see what’s working and what’s not — and adjust accordingly, Black said.

The 33 students participating in the before-school reading program, who are selected based on teacher recommendation, receive an additional 45 minutes a day on top of the reading instruction provided in the school’s multi-tiered approach.

While attendance is a barrier for learning both in the reading program and at Firwood Elementary as a whole, Black said moving the program before school has helped with attendance, as has providing transportation. Buses are available to help before-school program students maintain attendance.

She added the school has definitely seen an increase in student performance and literacy with the program.

“We as a school are working really hard despite some of these obstacles,” Black explained. “Our kids are achieving, growing and learning.”POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Firwood Elementary, like all primary schools in the district, focuses on getting students reading at grade level by no later than third grade.