Pair of new reading programs at Kingfisher proving beneficial to both mentees and 7th grade mentors
“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” - Margaret Fuller
Strengthening both leaders and readers, Kingfisher Public Schools partnered with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy this year to provide two literacy-based mentorship programs.
An advocate for a more literate America, former First Lady Barbara Bush called it the “most important issue we have.”
Already heavily invested in building literacy at KPS, reading specialist Sheila Redwine said the ReadSquad and Book Explorers programs add another layer of service for elementary students by utilizing cross-age mentoring.
“Peer mentors are able to connect better with younger students and also have the benefit of generating a double impact (benefitting both mentor and mentee),” Sheila said.
Under the direction of Gilmour Elementary and Heritage School library media specialist Lesley Redwine, first grade students were assigned to either the ReadSquad or Book Explorers program based on results from state benchmark testing.
First through third grade students who are reading four months or more below grade level are eligible for ReadSquad and use physical take-home books to improve literacy skills, while also building students’ home libraries.
Book Explorers also serves the same grade levels, but utilizes digital books in an online platform and is designed to reach readers at various levels who don’t meet the requirements for ReadSquad.
As part of the program, mentor and parent guides are provided which use targeted strategies and activities based in the science of reading to engage students, the reading aspect, how the seventh graders have embraced the responsibility that comes with being prepared, some of the problem solving involved and the relationships they’re building,” Lesley said.
As the students connect with one another, she said they each want to put their best foot forward and work hard for each other.
“We’ve received great feedback from parents and teachers as well as the seventh grade students on the likability of the programs,” Lesley said.
With so many benefits beyond helping students to improve their reading skills and develop a love of reading, Lesley said, the social interaction between the older and younger students has been an added benefit.
As the program comes to a close for this school year, seventh grade students Addison Johnson and Hadley Yost both expressed their enjoyment in being a part of it.
“It’s been fun just getting to hang out with the kids and help them,” Yost said.
As a ReadSquad mentor with Yost, Johnson agreed and said, “Some days they might be a little down at first, but when we start reading with them, their spirits lift and it’s really been fun also seeing their improvement in reading.”
A comprehensive plan to boost reading skills for district students was put in place a couple of years ago and the results have been obvious. The district was presented last fall with the 2022 Reading Champions award by The Reading League Oklahoma (TRLOK).
KPS was recognized for its tremendous gains shown in reading skills during the 2021-22 school year.
The award was based on benchmark testing throughout the year in which Gilmour Elementary students in kindergarten, first and second grades improved from 16% reading below the benchmark to only 4% below benchmark in the spring.
The addition of this year’s mentorship programs is just one more step to help all students develop the necessary skills of reading for their future success.
Gilmour Elementary Principal Makylah Tollefson said she has received positive feedback from both teachers and students.
“When you ask students about their time with their mentor, they’re always excited to talk about the fun activities they get to do with them,” she added. “We hope this is something we can continue to do in the future.”
Reflecting on the programs’ outcome through the year, Lesley said the first graders have been able to celebrate their reading successes with an older peer who is there to motivate and cheer them on through the hard work and the seventh grade students have shown improved leadership, communication and teamwork skills.
“I hope we can continue the program and it becomes something every first grader and seventh grader are able to look forward to each year,” she added. “The relationships that have been formed are so awesome to see.” building literacy skills and confidence.
Access to a free adult literacy app for parents who wish to improve their own literacy or English skills without attending classes is also included in each program.
“We wanted to use both programs to let every first grader be a part of it whether they’re reading below grade level or not,” Lesley said.
“With different levels, Book Explorers is able to meet the needs of those who don’t quite meet the requirements of ReadSquad and also challenge those reading on or above grade level.”
Each student was paired with a seventh grader from Kingfisher Junior High School teacher Mark Redwine’s classes as their mentor and reading helper.
Seventh grade students underwent mentorship training in preparation to meet weekly with their first grade partner for one-onone mentoring sessions.
The content of each program utilizes evidence- based strategies to help first graders learn to read and build literacy skills, Lesley said.
Discovering the programs on the State Department of Education website which are made available through federal coronavirus relief funds, Lesley said, “It was another way to get a book in students’ hands.”
As the district’s program director, Lesley said she works with the foundation directors in Washington, D.C., gathering and reporting data throughout the year to determine progress of the districts’ students.
Currently there are eight ReadSquad and 12 Book Explorers programs operating in 14 counties across the state.
Seventh grade students review the lesson plan each week and then meet with their first grade partners each Monday to read that week’s book.
They follow the same format of reading each week, which also includes a fun activity related to that particular book, Lesley said.
“If it’s a book about ice cream, the students might look online to see how ice cream is made,” she said. “So beyond reading, they have other fun interactions as well.”
As his class prepares to walk from the junior high each week, Mark Redwine said they are always ready and excited to meet with their reading buddies.
“It’s been great,” Mark said. “They’ve probably learned as much as the first graders.”
He said the older students recognize they’re responsible for helping the younger kids and they take it seriously.
“There’s been a real positive connection between them,” Mark said. “It’s been really awesome to see the interaction.”
Adapting has also been a part of the process for the seventh grade students in their role as mentors and role models, Mark said.
Some of the seventh graders were a little uneasy when the program began, he said, but they quickly learned how to interact with the younger students, which has built their confidence as well.
“It’s so fun to see beyond