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September 13, 2009

Foundation helps schools become models for reading

By Michelle Martin


When Liz Hein started using the Rowland Reading Foundation’s Superkids reading program in her kindergarten classroom at St. Bede School in Ingleside last year, she was impressed.

The program uses all sorts of different strategies to build reading skills, with methods that work for children who learn best by seeing, by hearing or by moving.

“It really captures all of them,” she said.

It moves in an orderly sequence, introducing each letter and its sound in a specific order. Each letter also comes with its own “Superkid” character, whom the students encounter throughout the program, which runs from prekindergarten through second grade.

“They grow and do new things just like our students,” said Hein. “It’s very motivating to the students.”

This year, St. Bede is one of 14 schools in the archdiocese participating in the SuperSchools Initiative, an effort of the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools to become a model for improving early reading instruction.

Participating schools range from suburban, such as St. Bede, to inner city, such as St. Agatha Catholic Academy.

$250,000 grant

The program comes with a $250,000 grant from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, the charitable organization started by the creator of the American Girls books and dolls, and a commitment from the archdiocese to raise $500,000 over the coming years to expand the program into more schools.

The money will help pay for the reading program materials and teacher training, and, in some schools, some minor improvements to classrooms, said William Booth, who helps raise money for Catholic schools.

Pleasant Rowland created the Superkids program years ago, and it found a market in schools around the country, but after its publisher merged with another, it was discontinued. Rowland bought it back and created the Rowland Reading Foundation, a not-forprofit organization, to keep the curriculum available.

Common cause

The SuperSchools Initiative came about after Rowland met Dominican Sister M. Paul McCaughey, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, at a conference and found common cause.

A statement released by the Office of Catholic Schools noted that the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report found that two-thirds of fourth-graders in the United States did not read at grade level.

“Our Catholic schools have the opportunity to help solve this problem, and we are excited and determined to do so,” said Sister Mary Paul. “Our partnership with the Rowland Reading Foundation enables us to put unparalleled resources into primary-grade instruction, so that every second-grader leaves the classroom as a reader. Parents seek the best possible education for their children, and they can be confident that these Super Schools will deliver the most important academic skills when they matter most in a child’s life.”

Barbara Johnson, president of the Rowland Reading Foundation, said she hopes that the participating schools will become models for how well the program works.

The Catholic schools, she said, seemed to be a good fit because of their history of academic rigor.

Catholic school students in the archdiocese perform higher than national norms in reading at all levels, with third-graders scoring in the 65th percentile, fifth-graders in the 68th percentile and seventhgraders in the 70th percentile.