Heartwood celebrates four years of comprehensive literacy achievements

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Mackenize Dekker

Hartwood employees Jenna Kogut and Amber Slocum give a presentation on comprehensive literacy during the Ingham ISD Board meeting.

Heartwood School, a facility offering special education services to students within the Ingham ISD service area, is celebrating four years of comprehensive literacy achievements. A presentation was given at the latest ISD School Board meeting to highlight the progress that has been made since introducing the literacy initiative. 

“When we think about comprehensive literacy, it truly comes back to the opportunity to make sure that all of our students can be successful,” said Ingham ISD Superintendent Jason Mellema. “And one of the things that are quite often missed in our society is students with special needs.”

Comprehensive emergent literacy is focused on developing students’ abilities to engage with text, communicate effectively during reading and writing activities and recognize and use letters and words, according to “Comprehensive Literacy for All”, the reference book that Heartwood structures their learning on

Jenna Kogut, instructional coach of special education, and Amber Slocum, a teacher for students ages nine to 13 who are severely multiply impaired, are among those leading the literacy efforts. 

“The goal is just to make sure that they have the same opportunities as their peers,” Kogut said. 

The Heartwood team focuses on five main phases to establish foundational literacy skills: shared reading, shared writing, alphabet knowledge & phonological awareness, independent reading and independent writing. 

Having literacy skills gives students the ability to be social, be more independent, participate in their environment and provides them with many more opportunities, Slocum said. 

This literacy initiative allows instruction to be brought forth through non-traditional methods. One example within the Heartwood classroom is offering various options for communication, such as using stamps or electronic tablets. 

“Some of our students have had to learn to write their names so that they can sign their paycheck or their timesheet,” Kogut said.

This approach to literacy has begun to foster an appreciation for reading and writing within the students, which encourages them to continue working on and building their skills. 

“A student who would never even keep a book near them now can sit and independently read a book,” Slocum said.

Heartwood’s literacy achievements have become a source of pride for Ingham ISD Board Members. 

Lori Zajac, President of ISD Board of Education, said she believes that setting a foundation of skills in early years, and then continuing to integrate those skills into every aspect of life beyond, can change a student’s life. 

“These kids that are just learning the alphabet, based on the challenges that they have, is more powerful sometimes than the things we take for granted,” Zajac said. 

It is the devotion to student success and care for special education students within the community that furthers the importance of these efforts. 

“To hear the passion from the teachers, to hear how we’re embedding this into our daily lessons, to hear how we’re providing professional development and support…it is so powerful,” Mellema said.

Comprehensive literacy efforts over the past four years have proved to be worthwhile in changing the lives of Ingham’s special education students, one step at a time. 

As the Heartwood motto says, “No child is too anything to be able to read and write.”

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