On Tuesday, they had more cause for celebration - a 588-square-foot training facility at James A. Cawood High School that will help fully execute the goals of Reading Recovery, a short-term model of instruction designed to serve struggling first-graders through a series of 30-minute daily lessons that span anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks.
During the 2005-2006 school year alone, Reading Recovery provided intervention services to more than 3,000 first-grade children in 229 schools statewide. That was made possible by employing 378 specially trained teachers who were chosen by their school's site-based councils. Reading Recovery teachers must meet a number of qualifications, including three years' experience of primary instruction.
Stacy Noah, achievement gap coordinator for the Harlan County School System, said once school officials caught wind of the program and its impact on students - nationally, more than 70 percent of students who receive the full series of lessons succeed to the average classroom level - they immediately began to tackle a Read to Achieve grant application through the Kentucky Department of Education in hopes of bringing the program to Harlan County.
Now, six of the school district's eight elementary schools are prospering from six $75,000 allotments to implement the program and train local teachers to become Reading Recovery instructors. Harlan Elementary School, of the Harlan Independent Schools, is also a part of the countywide effort to help first-graders reach their average reading level.
"It's just phenomenal to see the kids' faces. They're making connections - they're learning to read," Noah said during Tuesday's opening of the Reading Recovery training site, which includes a one-way mirror for "behind-the-glass sessions" between teachers and students. The method allows other teachers to observe a child's reading and writing behaviors.
"Having the facility here in Harlan County is a plus for our students because, throughout the course of this year, our students have had to get on buses and drive to Hazard for these behind-the-glass sessions with their teachers," Noah said. "Not having to drive to Hazard, driving out here to Cawood High School, is certainly going to be an advantage."
The facility, a former English classroom, was constructed during the Christmas break by a "diligent" maintenance crew, Noah said, and $6,000 in Reading Recovery funds was awarded for the project.
"We're going to be in this for at least three to four years. And we can see this being used not just by Reading Recovery teachers, but by educators in general," Noah said.
Donna Singleton, a teacher leader with the Hazard-based Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), one of three training sites for Reading Recovery, said teachers serving as specially trained instructors are continuing to complete graduate coursework although they have been in the schools since August. They are also working with short-term literacy groups as part of their curriculum and are serving 22-26 students a day.
Singleton, who presented a short history on Reading Recovery during Tuesday's gathering, said KVEC has already served about 225 local students through the Reading Recovery program this year.
"What this program does is it teaches us as teachers to become stronger and better observers of what the child is doing. That child leads us ... the teacher is not the leader," Singleton said.
KVEC has been assisting Reading Recovery's initiatives since 1996 and has two other training centers in Harlan and Jackson. The program is looking at expansion opportunities in possibly Floyd or Clay counties and trains teachers in 17 counties throughout southeast Kentucky.
Because early intervention is key to mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act, Singleton said more and more state funding is becoming available for programs like Reading Recovery.
"The thing about Reading Recovery that sets it apart from a lot of other interventions is that they (teachers) analyze the students' responses daily, after each lesson. And then they plan for the next lesson. Everything is individualized - there's no set program," Singleton said.
Children who do not progress under Reading Recovery's method of instruction are referred to a lengthier intervention program, such as a special literacy group, Singleton said. What's helpful under those circumstances, she said, are the daily assessments of the student's progress during the Reading Recovery sessions.
Reading Recovery and its concepts, Singleton said, originated in New Zealand in the 1960s by a psychologist who believed that close observations of a student's learning process are crucial to understanding the educational needs of that child.
The implementation of the Reading Recovery program first began in the United States in Ohio's elementary schools in the 1980s, not long after instructors at Ohio University received special training from the New Zealand psychologist, Dr. Marie Clay. Now, the program is widespread throughout much of the United States and has more than 20 years of data to rely on.
Reading Recovery came to Kentucky in 1988 and, in 2001, the University of Kentucky became the 23rd University Training Center in the United States. These centers train, assist and monitor teacher leaders with the goal of focusing on the five essential components of Reading Recovery: fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness, phonics and vocabulary development.
Marilyn Napier, a Reading Recovery instructor at Evarts Elementary School, said she has seen improved focus and interest from students who have had one-on-one time with her.
"We pull in whatever it takes to keep the child focused, and the children do much better. You can see the skills that they need and that's where you can help them," Napier said. And the daily assessments of each child's progress, she added, are beneficial to both students and teachers.
"You know exactly what to work on the next day," she said.
Timothy Saylor, superintendent of the county school district, said there's "no better way" to spend educational dollars than to implement programs that zero in on a child's learning process.
"I'm very proud that we have this facility and certainly this program," he said.
Tuesday's ceremony concluded with a model lesson led by Amanda Shepherd, a Reading Recovering teacher at Harlan Elementary School, and a short discussion session.
Noah said the remaining two elementary schools in the county school district - Black Mountain and Wallins - have submitted grant applications for the next round of Read to Achieve funding. She said school officials are also working on renewal grants for the six schools that have already implemented the program.
"Our county will be a better place because of this program," Noah said.
The other five Reading Recovery instructors include Bonnie Creech, Cumberland Elementary; Janice Stewart, Cawood Elementary; Melodie Canady, Hall Elementary; Jennifer Boggs, Rosspoint Elementary; and Angel Fannin, Green Hills Elementary.
A literacy institute program sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Education is also planned for June 5-7 at the Harlan Center. The program will focus on Reading Recovery's five essential components.