Schools push early literacy for young children

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – Parents have great impact on developing and improving children’s literacy, but most of them are insufficiently aware of it, experts say.

Early literacy is essential to future success. Students who fail to master reading skills by third grade will continue to struggle in high school, and thus be at high risk of dropping out, according to a report from the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Michigan is among the bottom 10 states for early literacy, according to the Education Trust-Midwest, an advocacy organization based in Royal Oak.

To improve early literacy, the state passed a third-grade reading law in 2016. It calls for holding back third-graders who fail the grade-level state assessment in reading in 2019-20.

The law has its critics, including the Michigan Education Association (MEA).

“We do not believe retention is a solution to reading deficiency,” said David Crim, a communications consultant for the union that represents teachers and other school personnel.

The MEA is working with early elementary teachers who focus on reading to improve the recent reading law, Crim said. “Once we get these responses, we will be sharing them with legislators so that legislation can be drafted to correct the law’s deficiencies.”

One solution to reading deficiencies is parental involvement, experts say.

“Parents or caregivers can greatly impact a child’s later success with reading,” said Sarah Kugler, an early interventionist in the Early On program at the Kent Intermediate School District.

Reading to babies and toddlers builds language, thinking, social and emotional skills, which are important to develop early literacy, Kugler said.

However, “I don’t think that parents understand that a child’s literacy skills start developing at birth,” she said. “From birth to 3, they are usually most concerned with sleeping, eating, walking and talking.”

Kugler said the problem exists especially for “parents who are struggling with basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, and they don’t or can’t think about a toddler’s communication delay until their basic needs are met.”

To improve parents’ awareness of literacy skills from birth to 3, the Kent district has Early On and Bright Beginnings programs to support early intervention, she said.

The Ingham Intermediate School District has a Great Parents, Great Start program, which enhances family-child interaction and encourages reading 30 minutes per day, according to the district.

Shelly Proebstle, the district’s literacy consultant, said the schools are working hard to deepen parents’ awareness but it could be hard for some parents to get involved in a read-at-home plan.

In addition, rather than having teachers come to the Ingham district to learn how to improve early literacy, “we go out into the classroom to provide them with professional development,” Proebstle said.

“We are looking closely at what interventions are being used for students who are struggling with reading, and we develop an individual reading improvement plan and share it with their parents,” she said.

GR Montessori at North Park, a public school with two campuses in Grand Rapids, is connected to its parents, said Mary Fridsma, the president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

Working closely with parents can make students feel supported by the community, Fridsma said.

The school communicates with parents through a Facebook group, she said. “When they have concerns, they typically go direct to the teachers.”