Students are boosting reading skills, confidence at Upper Pointe Coupee Elementary

Pointe Coupee school launches reading program to help struggling students

POINTE COUPEE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Teachers have a way with getting information across to the students, but sometimes, schools like to switch it up a bit.

Upper Pointe Coupee Elementary School is paying special attention to one group of students.

Learning sometimes requires tossing in new ideas, trying something innovative, or maybe just swapping out one teacher for another.

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“In class, they can’t get the full attention they need because the teacher is not only trying to teach them, but several other students too,” said Quiayana Waters, an 8th grader at Upper Pointe Coupee Elementary.

Last year, when administrators at Upper Pointe Coupee Elementary noticed a handful of students reading below grade level, they saw a chance to help their kindergartners, 1st graders, and 2nd graders, but also to give junior high students a chance to build leadership skills.

“We kind of married those two and made student coaches,” said Brandi Forbes, assistant principal at the school.

The emergency intervention began with student coaches sitting in the classroom with K though 2nd grade students, but it quickly progressed into a more hands on experience. Twice a week, the little kids get tailored tutoring from the big ones in the Power Word Playroom.

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“This was an empty classroom,” Myron Brown, principal of the school added. “Ms. Brandi came up with the idea.”

Forbes says when they recognized in October of 2018 that only 15 percent of students were reading at proficient level or above, they instantly realized they needed targeted intervention and support outside of the classroom. Leaders of the school say students’ reading levels are ranked as emergency, approaching, or proficient.

The playroom, which opened in January, is for the students in the emergency range.

“We want to make sure we’re moving those students out of emergency,” Forbes said.

Bringing in the senses, adrenaline, and emotion was the school administration’s first thought.

“The playroom is fun because at first, we were just in class,” Waters said. “They weren’t smiling. They were getting tired. They were bored. But when the playroom came to everyone’s attention, you saw big smiles.”

Power words are those that we use just about every day, but they’re also the words these K through 2nd graders struggle with. The coaches are connecting with the students on a different level by incorporating those target words into games.

“Research says that students should say and see words at least 40 times to really be able to know those words,” Forbes said. “We knew that we needed to target that outside of the classroom.”

“Sometimes, students can reach students better than teachers,” the principal said. “They think they’re playing, but they’re still learning.”

Roughly 24 students have benefited from the program; two to three students graduate per week. Forbes says as a result of the playroom, 44 percent of students are now considered proficient or above. The volunteer student coaches can even see the benefits.

Jeremy Major is an 8th grader at the school. He says his past experience with reading is what motivated him to volunteer with the program.

“When I was that age, it didn’t catch,” he said. “It’s definitely catching on and students are building relationships.”

Those that have graduated from the program want to come back. The student coaches are motivating the little ones to read while getting a boost of confidence for themselves.

“I feel not good, not great... fantastic, because I walked out here teaching students something that I didn’t know I was going to do,” Waters said.

School leaders say other schools are considering using the program as a model for their own curriculums. The East Baton Rouge Parish School System has a similar program that allows parents to volunteer.

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