LEXINGTON TWP. − Lexington Elementary teacher Mary Beth DelCalzo quieted the wiggly kindergarteners sitting on the floor in front of her so they could hear the sounds of the words she was about to say.
“Which word rhymes with cat?” she began. “Listen to your choices: Mat or mop.”
The children shouted in unison: “Mat!”
The class sailed through the series of rhyming words, then began dissecting words into individual sounds.
They swung their hands in a chopping motion as they separated the “nuh” sound from “ose” in the word nose.
They punched their fists skyward to emphasize the “da” sound at the end of the words made and fed.
They smashed their hands together like a sandwich to put together the sounds “ha” and “eye” and make the word hi.
“Did you guys practice?” DelCalzo asked the 17 kindergarteners as they finished their word sandwiches. “You must’ve practiced because I can’t believe it.”
This isn’t how the 40-year educator was teaching reading concepts at Lexington Elementary just a few years ago.
Marlington has spent the past three years trying to improve how it teaches students to read and write. District leaders introduced reading programs, such as Haggerty and Fundations, to help teachers better instruct students on learning the individual sounds of words (phonemic awareness) and how those sounds are written (phonics). Research has shown these types of skills help students learn to read.
DelCalzo said the reading programs have given her a roadmap to follow so each lesson builds on skills that students learned in the previous lesson.
“In kindergarten, you always rhyme but this is more of a program that focuses you and builds on it all step by step,” said DelCalzo, who attended Marlington as a student and has spent the past 35 years teaching kindergarten. “So having this come to the district is a godsend.”
District leaders hope a $200,000 state literacy grant Marlington recently received will help them create a cohesive plan that will guide how the district approaches literacy − reading, writing, speaking and listening − for students in kindergarten to fifth grade. Marlington is one of only 25 school districts in Ohio − and the only Stark County school district − to receive the Ohio Department of Education grant.
“It’s going to allow us to continue the work that we’ve begun,” said Renee Kaley, the district’s curriculum and staff development director. “We’ve already started doing the work in K-5 literacy and this will allow us to expand upon the work that we have begun.”
Literacy grant to help students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
The two-year grant is through the state education department’s Reaching All Students Through Language and Literacy initiative, which is focused on helping schools and school districts improve how they teach literacy to students who were hardest hit by the pandemic-related school shutdowns.
Marlington, where nearly half of its nearly 1,900 students come from poor families, saw its elementary reading scores continue to lag its pre-pandemic scores, state report card results show.
In third grade, 60% of Marlington students passed the reading test last school year, which was better than the previous year when only 57.8% passed but still far below when 82.4% of the third graders who passed in 2019.
Just over 67% of Marlington’s fourth grade students passed the reading test last school year compared to the 68.7% who passed it the year before and the 77.1% who passed in 2019.
In fifth grade, Marlington saw 74.4% of its students pass the reading test last school year compared to 72.5% passage the year before and 82.1% in 2019.
As part of the grant, Kaley, the principals of Lexington, Marlboro and Washington elementary schools, the district’s instructional coach and elementary teacher representatives will meet monthly with literacy experts to understand the schools’ strengths and weaknesses for literacy and literacy instruction. They then will develop a plan that will build on those strengths while addressing the weaknesses.
Kaley said Marlington’s plan could include more literacy training for elementary teachers or possibly purchasing a core curriculum for grades kindergarten through fifth grade that would serve as a roadmap and resource guide for teachers.
“The focus in the past has been on utilizing an instructional framework, and teachers would research and provide their own resources to support that framework,” said Kaley, who took on the curriculum post in 2021. “… Resources was the issue. Teachers would be pulling stuff from so many different places and not knowing whether it was evidence-based or not knowing if it was high quality. They are charged with so much planning that they don’t have time to vet every single resource that they are pulling. If we do move to a core curriculum, that vetting has been done for us.”
Kaley expects that parents will begin to see a difference in how Marlington educators teach literacy after next year’s training. Under the district’s continuous improvement plan, Marlington has set a goal that 100% of its students will demonstrate a year’s worth of growth in reading and math by May 2024.
DelCalzo is looking forward to the opportunities the grant will bring to the district. She believes a reading series or core curriculum would be helpful for teachers.
“I think it will be really good to have everyone have the same base,” she said. “… That means everyone starts at one spot and you can enrich it and do what you need to do with your class, but there are certain things that everyone has been exposed to.”
She’s already seen an improvement in how her students grasp literacy concepts with the training she’s already been given.
Reach education writer Kelli Weir at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-580-8339. On Twitter: @kweirREP.
Marlington receives state leadership award
Marlington Local Schools has been recognized as the Ohio Leadership Advisory Council’s Outstanding District for 2022.
The annual award recognizes an Ohio public school district that shows effective leadership practices and strong examples of shared leadership in the Ohio Improvement Process model. The council is a partnership between the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Department of Education.
In a message to Marlington leaders, the council said Marlington stood out from the rest of the nominees.
“The selection committee was very impressed with the work you and your team are doing and with the impressive Ohio Report Card results,” the message reads. “It was clear to us that Marlington is focused on school improvement and inclusive leadership resulting in student success.”
Marlington will formally receive the award at the leadership council’s showcase on Dec. 6.