Literacy not only builds skills and promotes “lifelong learning”, it serves as the prerequisite for a broader education, making it a critical foundational skill. This is often described as “from Kindergarten to 3rd grade, students learn to read and from 4th grade on students read to learn.” Students who struggle to read are most likely to have difficulty in important subjects such as math and are more likely to drop out of school before they can complete a basic education. As Link Community Charter School has grown to include 5th and 6th grades and, most recently, Kindergarten and 1st grade, literacy has increasingly become a pivotal area of focus. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, learning losses have only increased the need to strengthen essential reading and writing skills.
Link's approach is multifaceted, as it must both address initial development of reading and writing skills in the early grades and interventions in middle school for scholars who enter the school with gaps in learning. In Kindergarten and 1st grade, using a balanced literacy approach, educators are working in small groups with scholars to assess and develop key reading skills with phonics and guided reading at the forefront. Scholars are regularly writing both short and long pieces in response to instructional prompts; classroom teachers are using intervention tools to quickly address gaps as they present themselves; and an instructional coach is both supporting teachers in their planning and execution of strong literacy lessons and working with small groups of scholars. Special Education teachers further support students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
In 5th and 6th grades, Link has added a literacy specialist to address the acute needs of middle schoolers whose skills are significantly below grade level. Through a variety of assessment tools, the specialist identifies gaps that uncover student issues such as an inability to decode text, the lack of vocabulary, poor comprehension, etc. Through repetitive modelling, the specialist helps students build their skills and, subsequently, their confidence so that they can perform at their best during assessments.
The entire school community engages in activities that promote literacy and foster the love of reading and learning:
• Through generous private funding, all scholars have opportunities to build their home libraries with popular books!
• “Family Literacy Nights” were developed to encourage parental involvement and partnership.
• A new community partner, Mighty Writers, is helping to bolster student achievement, especially in the early grades with special programs and activities revolving around literacy.
• Middle school scholars, working to meet grade level reading standards, periodically assist kindergarteners and first graders with reading and writing - a win-win, for the little ones learn and the older ones gain confidence.
• Read Aloud days engage volunteers from the community to visit and model fluency for early readers.
• Volunteers from the Sisters of St. Dominic (the founders of Link) visit the school on a weekly basis to work with kindergartners and first graders who are developing their skills.
Through these initiatives, Link strives to both build skills and cultivate confidence. An assured scholar who associates reading and writing with joy can tackle the unknown and forge ahead with a real love of learning.