Maria Scherer and 17 other Derby teachers were in an intensive class this past week, polishing their skills and their materials to help children achieve literacy through the Take Flight program. Seven other teachers took the introductory class this summer.
Take Flight literacy instructors say the program’s benefits extend far beyond higher reading levels and assessment scores.
“I was worried at first about how older kids would take starting over with alphabet skills,” said Susan Topping, Sixth Grade Center speech language pathologist/ reading teacher. “They embraced it ... I could see the ah-ha moment in their eyes when they got it. It gives me goose bumps.”
Take Flight: A Comprehensive Intervention for Students with Dyslexia, was developed by a team headed by a neurosurgeon, using a scientifically tested method, to aid students who are dyslexic learn to read.
Derby Public Schools adopted the program for needs-identified students in 2011, said Sandy Chichester, nationally qualified instructor and certified academic language therapist.
“The constant repetition of rules that don’t change provides consistency and structure for students,” said Becky Hilt.
Hilt shared the story of a Derby homeless student who achieved success.
“He had no structure in his life, and this gave him rules he could stick to,” she said. “He wasn’t fluent by the end of the year, but it gave him abilities. His test scores came up 30 to 40 percent. He was so proud of himself.”
Topping, Hilt and 16 other teachers spent this past week in a Take Flight intensive training class.
They had taken the introductory course in the summer of 2011, following the board of education’s approval of the program.
“Phonics is not taught after third grade,” said Topping. “I was floored at the number of kids in high school who struggled with the alphabet, the letters, putting them in order.”
After using the program for one year, success stories abound.
“I have a hearing impaired student with learning issues, who has an interpreter,” said Topping. “After he had some success with the program, the interpreter turned to me in tears, and said, ‘Why doesn’t everyone do this?’”
The interactive program is disciplined instruction that follows a carefully sequential and repetitive lesson plan, and offers immediate feedback.
Teachers work with kids in small groups of four to five students, for 45 minutes a day, five days a week, to address spelling, writing and comprehension.
“In the small group, kids can let go of the bravado and learn,” said Hilt.
Approximately 151 students were served this past year after being identified as “at risk” for acquiring grade level literacy skills.
The program is not restricted to only those students.
“I had a student placed in Special Ed in second grade,” said Rebecca Scott. “I did everything I could, and nothing was working. In third grade the student started Take Flight, and by the end of the year, could read on the fourth grade level and got an exemplary on the state assessment.”
The district will do whatever it takes to get a child to read, she said.
“Some students have made the decision by first grade, and say, ‘I can’t do this,’” said Scott. “It’s not true. We give them a toolbox and help them realize, ‘I can.’”
Literacy and self-confidence impacts students’ home life, the community, and can even keep people out of prison, because it improves job possibilities, said one teacher.
“They (students) are not lacking in intelligence, they just can’t read,” said Kim McCracken. “Take Flight changed their lives. It’s changed our lives. As a parent, as a teacher, I think differently now.”
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