It's about the kids

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By Sara Ventimiglia
Meridian Times staff writer

The elementary schoolchildren of Okemos Public Schools are unlikely to be left behind with the district’s new Response to Intervention (RtI) program that has been set in motion.

Assistant Superintendent Patricia Trelstad said the district tried to start the program in the 2007- 2008 school year, but did not have the money. District officials knew that soon enough they would receive the federal funding to follow through with the program.

Response to Intervention is a systematic, research based instruction and intervention to prevent long-term failure in reading and comprehension, according to Trelstad.

“We can teach all children if we intervene early,” said Trelstad.

Cornell Elementary teacher Carrie McCarthy said they began gathering benchmark data last fall by screening all the children in just over a day.

“We then printed off reports for teachers so they could see the level of their students,” said McCarthy.

Children are placed in one of three tiers. Tier one is the basic teaching of reading and comprehension. Tier two provides more help in a smaller group atmosphere for those struggling a bit. Tier three provides individual help to those in greater need.

Sally Heisler, a reading consultant at Cornell Elementary, said, “Tier three students are typically one to two years below the reading level they should be.”

Everyone involved in the program attends a meeting three times a year to discuss the children and their progress. It is called “progress monitoring” and by using data, they are able to see if the kids are responding to the interventions.

Heiselr presented five main principles needed to read properly. Included were phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Laurie Howe, a first grade teacher at Hiawatha Elementary, says that fluency is one of the most important aspects of RtI.

“In my class, we do what I call ‘Good Fit Groups,’” said Howe. “One day, we switched shoes so that the kids would realize that everyone has a different fit and a different need.”

Tara Fry, president of Cornell Elementary, has acknowledged numerous contributing factors to this program including strong buy in from school staff, school board president involvement, district support and firsthand involvement from Dr. Catherine Ash, the district’s superintendent.

“RtI takes years to implement,” said Fry. “It is truly a journey and we have just begun.”

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