"If you can't read, you can't do anything else," said Jennie Kemp, a teacher at Edisto Primary School. "In teaching first grade, I am constantly trying to figure out how kids learn to read and write."
Charlene Gleaton, who also teaches first grade at Edisto, says that all children don't necessarily learn this vital foundation of their education in the same way. Some learn to read more easily through the use of phonics, but vocabulary and knowing the letter sounds are also important.
"Regardless of where the child is, we want to focus on what to do help them," Gleaton said.
Kemp and Gleaton are two of some 80 teachers in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Four taking the first of five 15-week classes on literacy. The program is offered in cooperation with the University of South Carolina.
Teachers can choose to take the courses for credit toward a master's degree or a reading specialist endorsement, and to meet professional development requirements.
The district is requiring all English teachers to take the course, said Dr. Shirlan Jenkins, OCSD Four's assistant superintendent of Instruction and Educational Programs.
Approximately one-third of all students have difficulty learning to read, Jenkins said. And research shows literacy to be the key to achievement in every academic area.
"If they can't read, they can't do anything else," she said. "That's why all teachers should be reading teachers."
These classes will help teachers integrate literacy into their subjects, according to Jenkins.
"Even physical education and music teachers will be able to implement it into their programs," she said.
Both Gleaton and Kemp are enthusiastic about the program and say they see it as a benefit, not just to their students, but to themselves as well.
Information is always changing with new ideas coming out, and Gleaton said the classes expose her to the new information.
It appears that there is going to be a lot of practice that can be applied in the classrooms, she said.
Each teacher will choose a particular student and do a case study focusing on how to help that child, she said. It can be a child who reads better than average or one who is struggling to learn to read.
"We will also do a self-study on how we help a child to learn to read, to see if what we're doing works and how to change it if we need to," Gleaton said.
Gleaton, who already has a master's degree, is taking the courses to earn her reading specialist certification. She has small children and says that having the courses offered at her own school during the daytime makes it a convenient way to further her education.
"I couldn't drive to Columbia every week," she said.
Kemp says that the course is giving her tools she can use in her classroom to help her challenge students with advanced reading skills and to help the ones who are facing difficulties.
"It's teaching me how to meet them on their own levels, to discover their strengths and weaknesses and build on them," she said.
Having the courses on-site gives her an opportunity to sit down with her colleagues and discuss methods of dealing with problems.
"I'm really excited about it. This gives us time to discuss our struggles. We don't have time during the school day," she said.
Kemp is taking the courses to earn credits for her master's degree.
"I have wanted to do this for a long time, and now I'm kind of glad I waited," she said. "I would have had to drive to Columbia at night, and now I'm done at 4:30. ... This is a really good opportunity for working moms."
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