Longform

Reading, Writing and CSAP Scores

Page 5 of 8

When the group enters the first class on the tour, first-grade boys and girls, all dressed in the school's required navy-blue pants and green, yellow or blue shirts, are writing down what they liked about the recent Martin Luther King Jr. assembly. Mentor Hay doesn't need much time to measure up a classroom; she quickly surveys its library and peers over kids' shoulders before exiting.

The group is at her heels as she heads to the next room. Kids are seated on the floor around their teacher, who's explaining what descriptive words are. In neat teacher's cursive, she writes on a big sheet of white paper: "Crisol has a barrette." And "Crisol has a purple and green-striped barrette." The little boys and girls remain attentive as Mentor Hay flips through the reading packets and writing folders on their desks.

The second-grade Spanish-speaking classroom she visits next is sparse. The two previous rooms were neat and tidy, with little on the walls other than commercially produced decorations such as laminated cutouts of letters and animals. But this one is particularly barren. Monica Dilts, the literacy specialist, notices the concerned look on Mentor Hay's face and explains that the teacher is new. "What do you do to support new teachers? If you have a new teacher who doesn't have much stuff, it makes the classroom environment not as rich," Mentor Hay tells the group that's now huddled around her. "Student work should be on the walls. Let's get this environment warm and welcoming for the students."

In the second-grade classroom that's next on the list, Mentor Hay notices a little girl with only one book in her possession. "How long have you had this book in your book bag?" she asks gently.

"Since December," the girl answers.

Mentor Hay asks her to read from it. The girl starts out slowly but clearly, then gets stuck on the word "always." After she stumbles over a few more words, Mentor Hay stops her and asks if she's taken the book home at night. No, she says, she hasn't.

"Do you ever take books home at night?" Mentor Hay asks.

"No."

"Does the teacher let you take books home?" she continues.

At first, the little girl says nothing. Then, bashfully, she shakes her head.

"No?" Mentor Hay asks. "Well, we want to make sure you take books home."

In another class full of children who speak Spanish, French or Vietnamese, Mentor Hay picks up a writing journal from the desk of a pretty, dark-haired girl. Her book report on a story about a Chinese girl who moved to America is riddled with misspellings. She uses the word "hear" when she means to write "hair" and spells the name of this country "Americka."

"How many books do you read each week?" Mentor Hay asks her.

The little girl shrugs her shoulders.

"You don't know?" Mentor Hay inquires.

"No," she says.

"Okay, thank you."

And with that, Mentor Hay lets out a sigh and heads to a classroom where the teacher is instructing kids in Spanish. Laminated decorations are mounted neatly on the walls and cabinets. A red apple bears the word "rojo," a black bat "negro." Mentor Hay leans in close to Dilts and whispers, "There's no student work anywhere."

On her way out, she picks up a simple penmanship worksheet from a student's in-box and asks Patterson-Smith what its purpose is. "What are they learning from this?" she asks. The literacy coach is at a loss. "If it was my kid bringing home this homework, I'd wonder what was going on."

In the third-grade classroom they visit next, all of the children are reading. And they're not just flipping through the pages; their lips are moving silently as their eyes scan the words. In fact, most of the kids are so absorbed with their books that they don't even notice the visitors. For the first time this morning, Mentor Hay smiles. "This is what we want to see: all kids reading," she says.

The group breathes a collective sigh of relief. But the tour isn't over yet. After stopping by a fourth-grade classroom where the heat is turned up too high and the kids appear groggy, Mentor Hay enters a special-education classroom. She bends down to inspect the kids' book bags. "Are you sending these books home?" Mentor Hay asks the teacher, Diane Swann.

"No," Swann says.

"Why?" Mentor Hay asks.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon