RISE-ing Up: ES, GF schools join statewide campaign

Friday, September 22, 2017
Superintendent Matt Summers reads 'The Legend of Rock, Paper Scissors' to third-graders Thursday at Green Forest Elementary. The school has become part of the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence (RISE) campaign, working to promote a culture of reading inside and outside the school building.
Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News

The Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts will be hitting the books this year as part of the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence (RISE) campaign.

A press release from the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) says schools were given the opportunity this summer to sign up to become RISE schools. More than 350 schools made the commitment, it says, to promote a culture of reading, build community partnerships and strengthen reading instruction, with additional schools expressing interest.

Among the 350 RISE schools are Green Forest Elementary School, Eureka Springs Elementary School and Eureka Springs Middle School.

“Arkansas schools and communities continue to demonstrate their commitment to building a culture of reading,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “I am extremely proud of the efforts of these schools and all stakeholders who have embraced this initiative and support Arkansas students.”

To assist schools with their own reading campaigns, the release says, each RISE school received a kit that includes bookmarks, posters, a banner and graphics.

“Strong reader skills establish the foundation for student success,” said ADE Commissioner Johnny Kelly. “As we transform Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused

education, strong, positive partnerships that promote a culture of reading are essential. I want to thank all Arkansas schools for their continued dedication to our students.”

Eureka Springs Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said RISE is an exciting opportunity for the district’s elementary and middle school students.

“One reason we pursued it is because we want to increase our test scores, and we want our kids to have that competitive edge,” Pruitt said. “Reading is a key factor. You’ve got to be able to read well to do well in any other subject.”

He said the district has applied for professional development, interns and materials to help implement the program.

“When we first heard about the program in the state we thought ‘Hey, we’ve got to get in on this and do what’s beneficial for our students,’ ” Pruitt said. “We’re thrilled about it. We’re trying not to overdo too many things, but, when a big opportunity like this happens, you have to take it.”

He said he spoke to elementary principal Clare Lesieur about taking part in the program because it was an opportunity to increase the district’s ACT Aspire scores.

“We want to improve our writing and reading scores. We’re not devastatingly bad, but we have room for improvement,” Pruitt said. “State averages are really low. We’re above state averages, but we want to be the best we can possibly be. That’s one of the big reasons we wanted to be part of the RISE initiative.”

The program will give students more access to books, he said, and give them the opportunity to get books at home so that parents can read to their children.

“Whatever we can do to show an improvement and help kids get a good jumpstart, we’re all about,” he said. “I think it’s a great partnership.”

Green Forest Superintendent Matt Summers said the district’s belief is that if a child is not reading at or above grade level by the time they leave the third grade then they are going to have a hard road through their educational career.

“There is statistical data to back that up,” he said. “Our goal is to have all of our kids reading at or above grade level when they leave the third grade. It’s something we preach and believe in a great deal.”

As a result, Summers said the district chose to take part in the RISE campaign, concentrating efforts at the elementary school level.

“Principal Danette Chaney had talked to me about the elementary taking part in the RISE initiative,” he said. “It’s an inclusive package, and we’ve already taken steps toward implementing that reading culture.”

Chaney said the RISE campaign is about promoting reading outside the walls of the school and getting more books into students’ homes.

“There are two avenues for it. There are the RISE Academies, where the state looked at different criteria of the schools to see who could participate in the academy,” she said. “What we signed up for is the initiative to push out reading to the community and our parents.”

Chaney said the three components of the campaign are working with community partners throughout the year, promoting a positive culture of reading within the school and looking at how the foundational skills of reading can be improved in the classroom through reading instruction.

“We’re going to be partnering with the Green Forest Public Library and try to help promote some of the activities they have scheduled after school and on the weekends,” she said, “so that more of our parents are aware of the things they have access to at the public library here in town.”

The school will also be partnering with the local Boy Scout troop, she said, who are going to help out at some of the elementary’s planned literacy nights.

“Some of our students are going to be doing book talks on books that they’ve read,” Chaney said. “At the end of the year, we purchased a set of books just for summer reading for our second- and third-graders. They took at least eight to 10 books home with them so they would have things to read over the summer.”

The goal of the RISE campaign is to increase the number of students who are reading at grade level, she said.

“When they take the ACT Aspire test in the spring, we want them to be reading at grade level,” Chaney said. “That’s our focus. We will keep promoting reading and bring the community into it to help make the parents aware of what’s going on.”

Summers said he believes it is important for teachers and staff to model the importance of reading for the students.

“I read in our elementary once a week on Thursday mornings. We keep rotating that from kindergarten to third grade,” he said. “The teachers pick the book, and I have no idea what I’m reading until I get there. A lot of times, they’ll pick a funny story or a children’s book with a song in it to try to embarrass me. It’s all in good fun, and the kids get into it, too.”

After reading to the students, Summers said he will ask them for five questions at the end.

“They’ll ask things about my family, the school and about my home life,” he said. “I think that’s important, too, because the kids realize we’re just like their mom and dad and everybody else.”

Summers continued, “Sometimes it seems like they think we live here. When they see us at Walmart they freak out sometimes. Reading together helps them realize we’re real people.”

Being more visible at the elementary level is a priority, he said, because the students wouldn’t know who he was otherwise.

“I think reading with the elementary is one of the best things I’ve done in my six years here,” he said. “The RISE initiative is a state-led program that will help us continue promoting a culture of reading at our schools.”

Since the launch of the campaign in January, the release says, ADE has provided training for more than 80 literacy specialists through the RISE Academies. These specialists are providing support to more than 1,000 kindergarten through second-grade teachers this school year, it says. The release says the RISE Academy will expand next summer to include training for educators in third grade through sixth grade. These trainers will provide support to educators during the 2018-19 school year, it says.

In addition to the RISE Academies, the release says more than 1,000 educators attended ADE’s second annual reading conference, where they learned the best practices for reading instructions and how to use data to guide it. ADE continues to collaborate with higher education and other partners to promote and improve literacy instruction, it says, focusing on the science of reading and how a student learns to read.

To learn more about RISE schools, visit RISEArkansas.org.

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