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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It's no secret that Tennessee students are behind in some needed skills, and reading is one of them. But a handful of Knox County schools are trying something new, aimed at a dramatic shift.
Every first grade student at Norwood Elementary School is getting help to boost their reading skills. It's a pilot program five Knox County schools are trying. Reading coaches train school staff to get the most out of students.
"The children are broken up into groups by their reading need," explained Principal Becky Lackey. On the morning we visited, children were gathered into small groups at tables in the hallways, in the library, in classrooms, and scattered all over the school reading.
"It's an all hands on deck approach," Lackey explained. "Everybody that can teach a reading group is teaching a reading group. So we have teachers, we have interns, we have teacher's assistants, me, I teach a group every morning."
The principal leads a group because she knows it's a skill all students must master to succeed, not just in school, but in life. "To be quite honest with you, it's my favorite part of the day," she said.
The kids are excited, too. Seven-year-old Malachi Parks said he likes sports books best, but he enjoys the morning reading sessions no matter what they read "because we get to read the books and it's really fun."
Seven-year-old Karina revealed that she's learning more than just putting words together. "Today we was learning about the A and the Y, "she said. "The A was long, and the Y was silent."
Kim Ha is six years old, and says the reading sessions are one of her favorite times at school, too. "You have to think in writing, and that's good for you," she explained. "You can learn to read more in reading."
The daily ritual begins at 7:50 a.m. and ends at 8:25 a.m. There are 17 reading groups at Norwood.
"The goal of our program this year was to make sure that every child in the first grade, regardless of their reading level, received extra education at that level," Lackey said.
The success is inspiring. In August, the principal says 60% of her first graders were reading below grade level.
Now 74% are at or above grade level.
"I mean we've got non-readers, children that were non-readers in August who are reading above grade level," said Lackey. "It's been a combination of programs and individual attention, computer technology, anything we can do to help children get to the level that they need to be because reading is the key. In first grade they're learning to read, so that by third grade they're reading to learn."
The Great Schools Partnership is looking for additional funding to expand the reading intervention program to five more schools. It costs about $80,000 per school.
Right now it's being used at Beaumont, Christenberry, Inskip, and Green Magnet Elementary Schools, in addition to Norwood. Those schools are getting similar results.