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School celebrates reading success

After just one year of participating in the Alabama Reading First Initiative,

Demopolis’ Westside Elementary School has already seen much improvement. And to reward students and families for their great achievements, the school is hosting a “Celebration of Reading Success” tonight at 6 p.m.

The school’s kindergarten classes have had a 20 percent increase in their vocabulary to place them slightly above the national average since the program began. While the mid-year DIBELS (state mandatory tests for grades K-2)

scores have increased by 90 points and above in every category.

“When we adopted ARFI last year, we made a lot of changes,” Westside ARFI reading director Debbie Butler said. “We implemented a new reading program, Voyager, and we have a two-hour protected reading blocks when classes can not be disturbed by phone calls, intercom or anything.”

Instead of teaching large classes, Butler said, small group instruction is used so teachers can evaluate each student and his progress individually in order provide skillful, intuitive instruction.

All these factors together, made a major difference in test scores and tonight Westside Elementary will honor their accomplishments in the school’s cafeteria.

Federal education program director Jenna Johnston will address how the “No Child Left Behind Act” benefits schools and Debbie Lett, Voyager representative, will discuss the impact the new reading program has on students.

Butler said she will take a moment to discuss the DIBELS testing and the guest speaker of the night will be Alabama State Department of Education’s assistant superintendent of reading, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, who will talk about ARFI nationally and in the state of Alabama in respect to the program’s success at Westside.

Although the program seems extensive, Butler said she doesn’t intend for it to last more than an hour.

“I understand people have things to do during the week,” she laughed. “So if you want to come and seek out a little early you can.”

Butler simply wants the community to support the children and their academic achievements.

Even though students surpassed the improvement expectations of the faculty within the first year of using the program, Butler said she believes the success will continue.

“I think we’ll keep growing. Our goal is to get 100 percent of our students to their proper reading level by third grade,” she said, “and I feel like we’re getting closer to it.”

The “Celebration of Reading Success” begins at 6 p.m. tonight in the Westside Elementary cafeteria. Refreshments will be provided.