About 310 students are fine-tuning their skills and learning to enjoy reading
by: Barbara Sherman, THE RIGHT WORD — Lisa Murphy helps her students come up with words connected with building bridges during a lesson at Templeton Elementary.

TIGARD - Ah, summertime! There's bright blue skies overhead and green grass to lie on or run barefoot through.

But in the case of some kids, instead of enjoying their vacation, they are spending part of it in class.

Actually, it's not so bad. Welcome to the Tigard-Tualatin School District's Summer Reading Program, in which Title I kids are given several weeks of extra help to beef up their reading skills.

This year, classes are being held Tuesday through Thursday from July 11 to Aug. 17. There are 60 students at Bridgeport, 80 at CF Tigard, 57 at Metzger, about 50 at Templeton and 70 at Tualatin Elementary School.

On a recent morning, program coordinator Erin Lolich was at Templeton, which has the smallest number of students.

'Each school has a team leader, and we progress-monitor all the students and collect data on them,' Lolich said.

The program started last year and has grown this year.

'We set a high target - to get all second- and third-grade Title I students in the program,' Lolich said. 'It was a lofty goal. But we pretty much got all of them except those who are moving or at camp.'

Title I is the federal program set up to improve the academic achievements of disadvantaged kids.

Letters were sent home followed by phone calls and home visits or open houses if parents did not respond to the request to give their kids extra help with reading, Lolich said. As part of the program, First Student provides transportation.

The daily session lasts about 2½ hours and starts off with a free breakfast.

'Last year we had cereal and some fruit, and this year, we have expanded to include more fruit and hot meals,' Lolich said. 'Then the kids go into small groups. Each school does it differently. In some, kids stay with the same teacher all morning, while in others, the kids switch around.

'Most of the program is direct instruction, but the kids participate and are engaged. The classes are small, with four to six kids per class. There's not a lot of workbooks or worksheets. And the kids get a break during the session.'

Only school district teachers and instructional assistants work in the program, according to Lolich, who was formerly a literacy specialist at Tualatin Elementary.

'Before school gets out in the spring, we do refresher training,' she said. 'This program is actually more intensive than the regular school year. It's more intervention-based, more individualized, more structured and research-based.'

As far as the kids' attitudes about being in summer school, 'most of them are excited to see their teachers and their friends, and they like getting the breakfast,' Lolich said. 'The parents' response has been very positive, and they're grateful that we're offering something.'

At a summer program kick-off event for the kids and their parents, Lolich gave parents calendars with one suggestion for something to do each day the kids are not at school, such as going to the library or reading to their child for a few minutes.

'If parents do a little bit each day, it's more manageable,' she said.

The results of the program are quantifiable and positive, according to Lolich.

'When the kids come back in September, they are ready to go and haven't lost as much ground,' she said.

In one classroom at Templeton, Laurie Claassen was preparing to read 'In and Out' with her four students, while in another, Lisa Murphy listed words connected with building bridges on the chalkboard. Both are learning specialists in the district.

The Oregon Department of Education has found the program - called responsed intervention - to be so successful that it is being expanded to more and more school districts.

In fact, that will be Lolich's job next year - getting the program started in eight other school districts.

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