Sunflower Elementary celebrates young readers

Lynne Hermansen
Gardner News

First-graders at Sunflower Elementary have improved their reading skills over the past year thanks to a new reading intervention program.

Principal Dr. Jason Jones said they made system changes at the school to support a reading interventionist, a math specialist and a reading specialist.

Brittany Jonker, reading specialist, said at the end of last year they were brainstorming on a new curriculum for foundational skills in kindergarten and first grade.

“And in order to fully support teachers with that implementation, I thought I would love to be in those classrooms the whole day to see how that is integrated,” she said.

Jonker said they decided to try with their intervention team making an adjustment to the daily schedule.

Forty-nine percent of the first-graders started on track in reading fluency in August and progressed to 60 percent on track by December.

Jonker said they were concluding testing and didn’t have the end of year results yet.

“But this is a really hard testing period from August to December because the benchmark in August is read one whole word in a minute on a CBC set of words, and by December they are expected to read 23 words a minute in a connected text with not necessarily decodable, some multi-syllabic words,” she said. “These guys have done a great job the whole grade level, and the teachers have done an awesome job. I loved getting to be a part of that how it is all connected and integrated together.”

Highlights of the program were presented to the school board at their Monday, May 1 meeting.

Jonker said the interventionist focused on at risk students and supporting their social and emotional learning with an emphasis on prevention, while supporting the math and reading specialists.

“Our interventionist plays a key role in tying all of these pieces together,” she said.

Tara King is the school’s interventionist. Jonker said King took the lead on second, third and fourth grade for ELA, which allowed Jonker to be in first grade classrooms all morning and kindergarten classrooms all afternoon.

“So I was able to see and help with the implementation of the new foundational skills curriculum in both, as well as how it is connecting to the Ready Gen curriculum,” she said.

King and Math Specialist Rhonda Wedel shared their highlights of the school year.

King said she supported at risk students both academically and their social and emotional needs.

“My favorite part of the day is when I get to build relationships with students,” she said. “Having that positive interaction with the students creates an opportunity for me to have a check in system with them where I go to their classrooms, check in with them for a few moments, sometimes bring them back to my classroom, talk with them. And having the positive interactions helps the student have a successful learning experience.”

King said the other part of her day is spent with small groups.

“And seeing their growth throughout the year is truly amazing,” she said.

Wedel said the math time was extended 45 to 50 minutes for each grade level thanks to the addition of the interventionist.

“Which allows the classroom teacher to provide intervention support and collaboration with the IR, the Gifted and the math specialist as well as the interventionist,” she said.

Wedel said it also gave her 15 to 20 additional minutes of flex time daily.

“It is that time I able to meet with students who may have been absent and missed some instruction,” she said. “Also those that might need the additional support and those who might benefit from math enrichment as well.”

Jonker said her favorite part was getting to learn the curriculum and knowing students deeper.

Jonker said students learned phonic skills through the Ready Gen Collection.

First grade students read the poem, “Zucchini Poem” for school board members. Jonker had provided her students homemade zucchini bread when they learned how to read the poem and recite it out loud as a reward. Some of the students wrote out the recipe.

Board members each received a zucchini and a copy of the poem from the students.