PAWTUCKET — Thanks to the philanthropic efforts of the founder of The American Girls Collection, Pawtucket school children will be learning to read with “Superkids.”
The Pawtucket School Department has been awarded a grant worth more than $650,000 to purchase the nationally acclaimed Superkids reading program for students in kindergarten through grade 2. The grant was made possible through the Rowland Reading Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by American Girls Collection creator Pleasant Rowland that is dedicated to improving early reading.
The grant will pay for the installation of a new reading program for all of Pawtucket's kindergarten through second-grade classrooms and implementation and coaching support for its primary teachers. Literacy experts say that the Superkids program has been praised for its fun, inter-modal approach to reading instruction, with an emphasis on phonetics—an important component for the many English Language Learners in a culturally diverse school district such as Pawtucket's.
It also comes at a time when the school district is struggling with budget problems and saw $1.1 million in federal literacy funds previously used for specific intervention purposes now combined with the total state education funding and used to address the overall school budget deficit.
In a press release, Pleasant Rowland, founder and chairman of Rowland Reading Foundation, said, “We have been very impressed with the leadership demonstrated by Pawtucket's top administrators and its teachers' strong commitment to early reading and professional development. There are many districts seeking such grants. There are few that have shown the determination Pawtucket has to improve reading in the grades where it matters most, kindergarten through second grade.”
“Our goal is to provide our students with the best, proven reading and language arts curriculum available,” said Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke. “When I met the founder of Superkids, Pleasant Rowland, in the fall, I was very impressed with not only the research presented, but also the way in which the reading program and story characters related to young readers.
Cylke added that Deputy Supt Kim Mercer and her staff have been very focused on literacy and had immediately sought grant funding for this program after learning about it. “With no federal grant monies available, you can imagine how delighted we were to learn that the Rowland Reading Foundation is making possible this installation grant,” said Cylke.
Cylke added that the Pawtucket School District did not only receive the grant because it is an urban school district, but also because of the “human capacity” within its literary staff and teachers and their sense of “moral obligation” to ensure that all students learn to read at a high level. “I think this company feels this is a great investment all around. And this is a huge compliment to our staff and our school district,” said Cylke.
Cylke added that Rowlands, who served for 15 years as president and chairman of the hugely successful American Girls collection of books, dolls and accessories, began her career as a primary grade teacher. After retiring from American Girl in 2000, she formed the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and focused her energies on philanthropic interests. In 2003, she further established the Rowland Reading Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving reading instruction in the primary grades.
Rowland Reading Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, publishes the Superkids program, a scientifically based reading curriculum that integrates reading with writing, spelling, and other language arts. According to a press release, the program has achieved exceptional results with a broad range of students in independent research studies in classrooms throughout the U.S.
According to Rowland, an important factor in Pawtucket receiving the grant was that its teachers have been trained in a highly respected, rigorous professional development course called LETRS. “We think very highly of the LETRS curriculum,” said Rowland. “Teachers who are trained in LETRS know solid, scientifically based reading instruction.” She added, “We're excited to partner with the Pawtucket School Department staff to show how much Pawtucket's children can achieve with a solid foundation in reading.”
Deputy Supt. Kim Mercer noted that Dr. Carol Tolman, one of the co-authors of LETRS, has been working as a consultant for the Pawtucket School District for the past few years. She said the program provides teachers in all subject areas with best practices to improve students' reading and writing skills as well as an understanding of why some students struggle. She added that it has received only positive feedback so far from those involved.
Kim McCaughey, Literacy Coordinator for the district, added that since state mandates now require that all teachers work reading and writing assignments into their respective curricula, it is more important than ever to have professional development in these areas. The LETRS program, she said, helps teachers understand why some students learn reading and writing quickly while others do not and offers alternative practices.
McCaughey and elementary school literacy coaches Lindsey Reilly and Diane Treichler, all expressed optimism about the Superkids program and its ability to reach and hold the interest of youngsters learning to read in a city that is so culturally diverse.