Building a culture of lifelong readers

It takes a village to raise a strong culture of readers, and the Washington Elementary School District's Acacia Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, is living proof. The community as a whole has become directly involved in and accountable for their children’s reading. Parents enforce and log 20 minutes of nightly reading time, watching reading progress from their home computers, even popping by the school library to check out books at their kids' reading levels.

“Renaissance Accelerated Reader® has been very successful in motivating and rewarding our students for reading when they’re off campus,” says Principal Christine Hollingsworth, recently honored as a Rodel Exemplary Principal. “Parents and our entire community know they’re an integral part of our reading curriculum and are extremely involved through Accelerated Reader.”

Acacia Elementary, which is made up of 80 percent of students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch, earned an “A” grade from the Arizona Department of Education for high academic growth and test score achievement compared to others in the state. Acacia is also recognized as an A+ School of Excellence from the Arizona Educational Foundation, which is based on achievement as well as business and community partnerships.

The school has been so successful at garnering community support that new classroom computers for quizzing, additional library books, and prize donations—including brand-new bikes—are provided through local business partner Telephone Pioneers of America and through grants from their local Wal-Mart.

“Accelerated Reader has been very successful in motivating and rewarding our students for reading when they’re off campus. Parents and our entire community know they’re an integral part of our reading curriculum and are extremely involved.”

Christine Hollingsworth | Principal | Acadia Elementary School

But 10 years ago, Acacia Elementary was an underperforming school with a need for a research-based program that supported success in reading. They decided to pilot Accelerated Reader and became a highly performing school within two years. These exciting results led Acacia to a full push with the program—introducing more computers into classrooms, teaching staff how to print and read reports, and keeping track of reading levels and progress through Renaissance Star Reading® pre- and post-testing.

“When we average the grade equivalent growth on the Star Reading test, we typically see about 1.5 years growth for a sixth-grade class and one years’ growth for a typical 2nd grade class,” she said.

Acacia students know how to find books at their level in the library, and so do their parents. In fact, parents know all about Accelerated Reader and Renaissance Home Connect from the day they walk in to meet their child's teacher. They receive pamphlets, they’re trained on curriculum night and other meetings throughout the year, they’re given detailed library tours, and much more—all to emphasize exactly what Acacia does with Accelerated Reader and why it’s important.

“There’s tons of parent training involved,” Hollingsworth said. “When parents ask why their child is at a 2.3 level when their child can read Harry Potter to them, I explain our focus on reading comprehension. And if they question if giving points is fair, I tell them it’s all based on reading practice at the child’s level, and that everyone is capable of making their goals.”

Parents are given specific guidance on how to help their children reach those goals. If they have K-2 students, they’re trained on how to read with their children—right down to the questions they should ask while reading together and how many times to read each book. All K-6 parents are taught to monitor their child’s progress via home computers through Renaissance Home Connect, which allows them to track reading goals, quiz results, and other updates.

STAR Reading reports are critical to the successful connection, too. Acacia uses Star Reading to determine reading level and show progress to parents at conference time. If someone’s not making adequate progress at any given point during the year, teachers call parents or arrange extra conferences to offer specific ideas they can try at home.

“When parents know the goals and watch their kids get excited to read, they realize how important it is and mirror that excitement,” Hollingsworth said. “It takes a lot to track 650 students and make everyone successful here, but it’s well worth it when parents see the growth and completely buy into it.”

Of course, the kids have to buy into it, too, and they do. Acacia keeps Accelerated Reader fresh with a new theme each year, and even lets the sixth-grade student council determine their grade’s prizes to ensure they’re “cool.”

“Anything that makes reading fun and motivational makes kids more successful,” Hollingsworth said.

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