DEADWOOD — Sometimes all it takes is for someone to believe in you. Especially when it comes to mastering an all-important life skill that some kids struggle at, like reading.
“Our number one goal is to prevent literacy failure,” said Lead-Deadwood Elementary reading recovery teacher Shannon Mollman.
Over the past seven years, nearly 100 first grade students were given a gift they may not have otherwise received had they not been enrolled in Lead-Deadwood Elementary School. The gift of one-on-one time with a reading recovery teacher. A gift that leads to a life spent as a reader versus a kid who fell through the cracks.
On the first day of school each fall reading recovery teachers Mollman and Suzanne Trentz begin testing first grade students in earnest, looking for gaps in alphabetics, fluency, comprehension and general reading achievement. They begin looking for the little ones who need them most.
“They might not even know the different parts of a book, the cover, how to open it correctly, things like that,” Mollman said. “They can't read, don't know their letters and their writing is usually very low too. Their early reading behaviors are not established, there are not a lot of concrete things established and it's limiting their progress to accelerate and read.”
“They just haven't had a lot of 'lap time,'” Trentz said.
They're the lowest 20 percent of all first graders and right now, and Mollman and Trentz are working with eight for this 20-week reading recovery period. In just a week or two, their charges will likely test out and show typically amazing results.
“When they enter the reading recovery program, most are reading five or fewer words,” Mollman said. “When they finish, most are reading 40 or more words in 10 minutes and the majority of children reach grade-level standards in 20 weeks.”
Not every elementary school in the Northern Hills offers kids this gift. But, joining Lead-Deadwood, Meade, Piedmont, Belle Fourche, Hot Springs and Custer, do.
“When this program was put into place, Tim Kosters was a strong supporter,” Mollman said. “He was committed to reducing the number of struggling readers and writers in first grade. We're lucky. We have the support of the principal, the classroom teachers, special ed teachers, the special ed director and Dr. Leikvold, who have nothing but good things to say about the program.”
Mollman explained that the “contact time” required to guide children to grade level is approximately 40 hours per child over the 20 weeks.
“They work so hard,” she exclaims. “Here's a typical 30-minute lesson: two to three familiar re-reads, a running record, which is a new book from the day before, letter work, word work, writing with a cut up story and reading a new book.”
Each couple of lesson parts should take around 10 minutes.
“That's ideal,” Mollman said. “But it doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes we need to work a little bit harder on some areas than others.”
Mollman, who began the program seven years ago, has tracked each child who has been through the program.
Most had D-STEP performance results of basic or above when they began D-STEP testing their third and subsequent school years and 75 percent of students, with a full series of lessons, reached grade level standard.
“No matter where a child is, if they're struggling or just need a little push to learn by leaps and bounds, every child improves their reading and writing, making them more confident in their risk taking and trying new things,” Mollman said.
“To have them feel good about their feeling toward reading makes a huge difference in their life to me,” Trentz said. “It changes their life.”
In addition to their first grade reading recovery work, Mollman and Trentz help around 50 students throughout the school in guided reading and other reading groups.
Giving kids a gift that will last a lifetime takes a few moments of reflection to sum up the most impactful part for these two teachers.
“When most of these kids come in, they're saying 'I don't know how to read,' 'I hate reading.' But when the light comes on and they figure out that they can do it, it's one of those KODAK moments. The confusion is gone and having them believe in themselves is priceless, because most don't see themselves as readers and writers at all,” Mollman said.