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Massena Central School to pilot new Superkids ELA program

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MASSENA — Massena Central School teachers and students in prekindergarten through second grade will be piloting a new English language arts program that the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment says is money well spent.

The cost for the Superkids reading program developed by the Rowland Reading Foundation is $50,000, which Evelyn M. Fiske said will be paid from the district’s annual textbook funds.

“It’s expensive, but so is remediation,” she told the board of education Thursday night.

She said without the proper instruction, the gap between what the student knows and needs to know would grow larger, resulting in an even larger cost. If students can’t read at grade level by the end of the second grade, she said, they’re four times more likely not to graduate. “The gap gets bigger and bigger up to the high school,” Ms. Fiske said.

The Rowland Reading Foundation was formed in 2003 by Pleasant Rowland, an educator, reporter, writer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. As a young teacher, she was searching for a solution to help students learn to read, but the materials she had weren’t working. So she began studying literature of leading developmental psychologists, reading experts and education theorists and, in 1978, combined what she learned with her own classroom experience to create Superkids.

The publisher of that program, which was phonics-based and integrated reading, spelling, listening and speaking, stopped marketing the program in the early 1980s, but continued to supply Superkids to schools already using it.

In 2000, Ms. Rowland reintroduced Superkids and, in 2003, formed the nonprofit Rowland Reading Foundation to update and distribute the Superkids Reading Program.

Ms. Fiske said most publishing houses that produce educational materials are in the business to make money. But that’s not the case with Ms. Rowland, who wrote the “American Girls” series of books and later sold it to Mattel for $700 million. “She doesn’t need the money. Now she’s gone back to the idea of getting kids to read and she created the foundation,” she said.

Many programs also leave gaps that have to be filled in with other materials. But that doesn’t appear to be the case with Superkids, Ms. Fiske said.

The program, based on systematic phonics, is completely aligned with the Common Core standards that were introduced to classrooms this year. She said it balances all five essential elements of reading and integrates reading, writing, spelling and grammar, but combines the rigor with fun. It provides training and teacher manuals as part of the materials package.

It introduces students at each grade level to different characters, as well as different songs that tie together with the characters to make the learning experience fun. “They are highly motivating materials,” she said. “We need to make sure they’re motivated and engaged.”

That concept works well in the classroom, Ms. Fiske said. At the prekindergarten level, the lessons are done in a fairy tale format that focuses on enriched language skills with vocal integration, as well as addressing fine motor skills and listening to directions.

In kindergarten, she said, students can initially learn three words in the first couple of weeks and build on those.

“It makes them feel engaged and motivated,” she said.

The program will be evaluated at the end of the year, using information such as student data to see if it’s been successful.

“We need to make sure we have the best program for the kids. The data will help us; teacher evaluations will help us,” Ms. Fiske said. “I cannot imagine we will not have success with that. There’s so much integration.”

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