Westside celebrates reading success

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2006

Reading is fundamental, but it takes funds to get the proper learning tools in classrooms. However, thanks to the Alabama Reading First Initiative and its Voyager reading program, Westside Elementary School was able to provide its students with a top-notch reading curriculum that works.

Last night Demopolis parents, teachers, board members and students gathered in the Westside cafeteria to celebrate the success students have achieved since using ARFI.

One year ago, the school competed for a grant from the program. After proving its worthiness, Westside received the $1 million grant and is using it over the next three years to fund reading education in kindergarten, and first and second grade.

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Eighteen years ago, Alabama State Department of Education’s assistant superintendent of reading, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, made her initial attempts to start the program, but a lack of participation caused it to never get off the ground. However,

today ARI is more successful than ever and plans to pay for reading teachers in more than 850 schools across the state in the next few years.

But Mitchell didn’t visit Demopolis to talk about the program itself, she came to personally recognize Westside for utilizing the program in such a way that took their students reading abilities to another level.

“You have set a level of success that makes it hard for other small towns to achieve,” Mitchell said as she waved

Westside test results in her hand. “This is so impressive and I couldn’t be more proud of what you have done. This is an example of a climate that couldn’t be more conducive to learning.”

A nation-wide standard says if a K-3 school has 80 percent of its students with higher than average reading scores and no more than five percent with serious literacy handicaps, Mitchell said, the school is named a national honor roll institution.

“Here they are well around 90 percent in the top,” Mitchell said with a smile, “So if we can add a K-2 school, they would definitely be there.”

“We have a lot of talent here and when we work together with the teachers, parents, and students, we bring out our strong points,” Westside principal Mary Glass said. “That’s what makes us successful. We’ve all bonded to get the best out of our students.”

Demopolis mayor Cecil P. Williams and Demopolis City Schools superintendent Wesley Hill were also on hand to celebrate the success of local students.

Hill said he hopes Westside’s success will encourage other schools, across the region, to participate in ARFI because the program does “good things” for students as long as the staff is willing to make it work.

“We are here to do what’s most important for the children,” Voyager representative Debbie Lett said, “and that is to help them read.”

When you can find teachers in a school as big as Westside that can name the children that are having problems, Mitchell said, you know they are paying close attention to what’s going on.

“There are schools across the state doing book studies on going from good to great,” she added, “but students and staff here are living it.”