Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Local News

September 10, 2010

Accomplished Grandview discovers reading is right

Grandview Intermediate students and faculty were all smiles last year over the school’s Texas Business and Education Coalition Honor Roll Award, which recognizes schools with the highest percentage of students performing at the state’s most rigorous standard — commended — in every subject.

They must be turning cartwheels in the halls this week after winning the award for the second year in a row.

“Four percent of the schools in Texas receive the award,” Grandview Intermediate principal Kristi Rhone said. “It’s the percentage of students performing at the state’s most rigorous standard.”

That Grandview Intermediate is there is no longer really news.

How it got there, and how it plans to make it a third time next year, might be something other school districts want to scrutinize.

One of the largest contributing factors is so simple that every school under the sun could tackle the same strategy.

It’s called reading, an activity highly popular among children 40 and 50 years ago but slightly out of style in the 21st century because of the popularity of video games and hip-hop culture.

“We’ve instilled a passion for reading at our school,” Rhone said. “Our reading teachers have helped us do that by developing above and beyond. That’s kind of how I look at this.”

The program began in fifth grade three years ago with a competition known as Bluebonnet Reading. Students would read a minimum of 10 books in the 20-volume Bluebonnet series, all available in the school library. They would then vote for their favorite. Students who read 10 of the books and passed a test were eligible to take a field trip that included a book store and restaurant meal in downtown Fort Worth and ice cream on the way home.

“The first year, we had 12 students on the field trip,” Rhone said. “We had 16 the next year and 54 last year. That was out of 80 fifth graders. When they’re reading that quality literature, their vocabulary is increasing. We filtered [the program] down to fourth grade. The fourth-grade theme is Read Across Texas. The teachers chose 20 books for them, typically nonfiction Texas books.

“The first year we did this at fourth grade, we did a field trip to the Waco area and took only two students. Last year, they took 16 to Fort Richardson and did a history walk and went out to eat. Third grade is going to implement it this year. Their theme is Reading Across the Genres. Third-grade teachers have between 300 and 400 books to choose from, including the old Bluebonnet books.

“This is the third-graders’ first year, and we haven’t decided yet what their field trip is going to be,” Rhone said.

Teachers in the three participating grades have been enthusiastic, Rhone said.

“The teachers are doing a fabulous job of building it up. At the beginning of the year, the fifth-grade reading teacher will show a video of how much fun they had the previous year on the field trip. That right there gets the students excited. We’ll also have individual conversations with kids. I talked with a little girl yesterday who’s had a hard time with reading. She told me she’d read two full chapters the night before of one of the books I’d read. We talked about it, and I gave her a piece of candy. That’s a little bit of encouragement, too.”

The program might not be so successful if Rhone didn’t believe so strongly in the printed word.

“I’m a passionate reader myself,” she said. “I believe in turning the kids on to reading for enjoyment as well as learning purposes. The mechanics are taught at the lower levels. They’re teaching how to read. By the time they get to third, fourth and fifth grade, we want them to read to learn.”

Many schools teach reading comprehension through a program in which you read a book, take a test and receive so many points for a grade. Grandview does that, too.

But no one else, as far as Rhone is aware, has introduced the comprehensive reading program Grandview has.

“I went on the field trip the first year just to encourage it, and it was so rewarding because those kids were proud of themselves,” Rhone said.

They’re reading, much as kids 40 and 50 years ago would read ... for fun.

“With video games and all the extracurricular sports at the young ages, kids aren’t entertained by books anymore,” Rhone said. “I’ve sat at restaurants and watched kids play with games instead of interacting with the adults.”

Whose fault is that? That’s like asking the meaning of life.

“I think it’s society’s fault,” Rhone said. “We fight a battle of holding their attention and entertaining. We didn’t have to fight that battle 40 and 50 years ago.”

Grandview students at all levels have excelled on the state-mandated TAKS tests.

They hope to do equally well when end-of-course STAR testing begins.

“As long as we’re teaching the content, I feel our children will do well on any test,” Rhone said. “We’ll spend a little bit of time teaching them how to take the test, but our main focus will be content.”

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