Editor's Note: Over the next two weeks, Sojourners is celebrating our teachers, parents, and mentors as children across the country head back to school. We'll offer a series of reflections on different aspects of education in our country.
My elementary school is a Title I school. About 97 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and Medicaid. Research shows us that many children raised in poverty struggle to learn to read.
Common sense tells us that children who don't learn to read can't read to learn. They often reach a frustration level with school by the time they're in the third grade. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 70 percent of low-income fourth-grade students can't read at a basic level. I often wonder, "What can I do in my day-to-day work as a teacher to help?"
I came across a story in the St. Petersburg Times about Timothy Driggers, a bus driver for Lomax Elementary School in Tampa, Fla. Each day his bus arrives a half-hour before the school opens. There are about 20 students on the bus. One day he found a book on the bus, and no one claimed it. The next morning he began reading the story to the students. They loved it! When the story ended, they asked for another one. The media specialist gave him a list of great books, and a reading circle was born. Now the students read with him. They predict, question, clarify, and summarize. They tackle difficult books. And Driggers recently won the 'Celebrate Literacy Award' from the International Reading Association, the world’s largest literacy group. He received a standing ovation at the award ceremony.
As a reading interventionist, I'm always looking for ways to encourage students to read. Our school opens at 7:15 a.m. for breakfast, but some of our students arrive early and wait at the front of the building for our custodian, Ms. Louise, to come and unlock the door. So I decided to follow Driggers' example and start a reading circle for them.
At 7 a.m., I take my teaching stool and Frindle by Andrew Clements out among the waiting students and start reading. One day I was a few minutes late to my reading spot. Two students said, "Mr. Barton, we were waiting for you! We want to know what's gonna happen next!"
On a political level, I know I can advocate for my students, many of whom are children of color, by supporting policies that promote comprehensive reading instruction, integrated schools, and classrooms with a small percentage of students reading below grade level. At the school level, I know I can advocate for them by urging parents to read and talk to their kids more often. And on a personal level, I know I can advocate for my students by finding creative ways to help them become good readers and by showing them that I care.
Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, S.C. He is a blogger for theSouthern Poverty Law Center.project of the
Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly / Shutterstock.com