by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
One hundred and fifty Milwaukee second and third graders will participate in an intensive pilot summer reading project beginning next week.
The reading project is the byproduct of efforts by a coalition of civil rights, education and community leaders who heeded the call of former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller to develop a community response to a report showing two thirds of Black public school fourth graders lack proficiency in reading.
The startling revelation, based on National Assessment of Educational Progress reading proficiency testing results released in March, ranked MPS fourth graders as last among their peers in all states and the District of Columbia.
Black eighth graders faired only slightly better, ranking above only Arkansas.
At the time of the announcement, Fuller decried not only the test results, but also the apparent lack of community outrage over the test results.
Within days, Fuller had sent out a call for a meeting to discuss and offer possible solutions.
The resulting meeting drew over 50 stakeholders and quickly morphed into an ad hoc committee that has focused efforts and collective expertise on organizing the summer reading project, and assessing the components of school districts with successful reading programs.
While half of the group has focused on laying the foundation for an overhaul of the current curriculum, other members of the ad hoc group have been organizing the pilot reading project that will target second and third graders.
Five public, private and charter schools have been chosen to host the project: Cass, Green Bay Avenue and Lafollette Elementary schools, Cyber Charter, and Hickman Academy private school.
Participants have been nominated for participation by their respective school principals.
A team of reading specialists will be teamed with college and high school students to facilitate the classroom instruction. An intensive professional development process began last week.
Dr. Patricia Ellis is the project coordinator. Director of professional development and community outreach at Cardinal Stritch, Dr. Ellis has taken a leave of absence from her position to coordinate the project, which carries an operating budget of $200,000.
Committee members have been working diligently to raise the funds and are hopeful of meeting their goal through contributions from philanthropic organizations and individuals.
In describing the reading project Dr. Ellis said it is intended to “develop, deepen, and broaden their reading and writing skills by strengthening their decoding and phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, critical and creative thinking, and problem-solving skills. “
The project will, she continued, strive to immerse students in a research-based literacy rich learning environment that will nurture and foster continuous achievement in the areas of reading and writing.
“Students will learn that reading and writing are much more than simply words to be read or written.
“They will learn that, by developing strong reading and writing skills, they become empowered to fulfill hopes, dreams and aspirations for themselves, their families, their community and the world.
“The project’s teachers and student support staff, along with so many others who have and are giving generously of their time, talent, and expertise are committed to the vision and mission of this project, and achieving positive outcomes for the children at each participating school.”
Committee members have met with the state and MPS officials to discuss the implementation of a revamped reading curriculum. They have also begun a process of reviewing successful curriculums in states ranging from Massachusetts to Florida.
The committee plans to convene local and national experts, as part of a process to develop a model they feel will facilitate a new reading paradigm.
Nearly 100 stakeholders are involved in the committee, including MPS educators, organizational heads and representatives of private and charter schools.
At one of the committee meetings, Fuller said the reading proficiency problem is not restricted to public schools, and the solutions must be comprehensive.
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