Known for the world’s largest olive and rows and rows of orange trees that have been around for centuries, Lindsay, California, is home to more than 11,000 people and a significant Hispanic and Latino population. A rural area that got its start during the gold mining boom when the Southern Pacific Railroad was built, Lindsay came to be after the city’s founder purchased 2,000 acres and established the Lindsay Land Company.
Jefferson Learning Community, part of the Lindsay Unified School District, is a K–8 school that serves around 460 students—with a large amount of the population being English Learners. Jefferson offers multilingual instruction, meaning that classes are taught in both English and Spanish. The school refers to its students as learners and teachers as learning facilitators.
The challenge: Motivating learners
Gina Wise, the principal at Jefferson, was familiar with Accelerated Reader and other Renaissance programs. In fact, Jefferson had been a longtime user of Accelerated Reader. However, due to budget shortfalls, the school had been using other reading programs in its place. Those other reading programs had limited selections and offered little in the way of diversity, making reading more of a chore for learners at Jefferson.
That’s when Wise and her team decided to reach out to Renaissance again. After connecting with an account executive, she learned about myON, a new reading program that Renaissance had acquired in 2018. With more than 6,000 digital titles and daily news articles in English and Spanish written just for children, myON was the perfect solution to the school’s needs. Knowing Renaissance’s commitment to educators, Wise and her team took the plunge and implemented myON in July 2019 to provide better access to diverse reading materials. The results? Incredible.
The results: Greater access and lifelong readers
A few moments stick out to Wise when looking back on the past year with myON—one of them being an annual Civil War field trip. For the past four years, eighth-grade students at Jefferson have traveled to neighboring Fresno to see a Civil War reenactment, complete with cannons and sword fights. While these trips have been beneficial in the past, learners were never able to get the full experience due to a lack of background knowledge about the Civil War.
This last time, learning facilitators at Jefferson created different booklists about the Civil War for learners to read. Having a curated collection of Civil War booklists saved instructional time and made it quick and simple to find content for classes. Plus, with learners able to read at home, that translated to more meaningful conversations in classrooms the following mornings.
“Leading up to the field trip, there was one learner who asked if there would be bayonets at the Civil War reenactment,” recalled Wise. “We were blown away that this student was able to learn this word, use it in the correct context, and be aware of the connection to the Civil War. For someone who isn’t a native English speaker—that’s huge.”
“For someone who isn’t a native English speaker—that’s huge.”
Principal, Jefferson Learning Community
And the interest continued. During the Civil War reenactment, learners were engaged, asking performers questions and using the new vocabulary they’d learned from their extensive background reading.
In addition to the Fresno trip, students often go back to Mexico to visit relatives during the summer months. Wise and learning facilitators struggled with how to get books in the hands of learners during those visits because often, there wouldn’t be wifi hotspots and printed books were expensive to bring back and forth. That was, until they were able to provide every student with 24/7 access to digital books through myON.
“Now, because of myON, learners can download 20 books to read offline and take to Mexico. In the past, learners didn’t have wifi while visiting and wouldn’t have a chance to read,” said Wise. “The ability to download books is really, really important to us.”
That has become especially important in the last few months. With the pandemic and distance learning becoming the new normal, Jefferson moved to a blended learning model and rolled out devices and wifi hotspots to ensure learners had access to myON at home. Despite all the change, learning facilitators noted an uptick in students reading in myON. In fact, 59 individual learners read over one million words each this past school year. Some learners are still actively reading on myON, despite school being out for the summer.
Asked why learners continue to gravitate toward myON while at home, Wise pointed to the background knowledge myON helps students to build. Learners at Jefferson and their families can listen to the audio version of a book in myON, look at the pictures and illustrations, and connect key concepts and ideas.
While an English Learner might struggle to read something in English, the audio version helps them still read about a topic they’ve shown interest in and still build background knowledge. Important features like this help Jefferson’s English Learners catch up to their fellow learners—empowering them.
In fact, Wise calls myON “a great equalizer” in terms of equity for Jefferson’s learners.
“My SPED learners, especially upper-grade SPED learners, really feel empowered by myON,” said Wise. “In a flipped classroom model or blended learning model, learners are given the opportunity to listen to some of that background story ahead of time. Whether they’re our SPED learners or our English Learners, they still need that background knowledge for it to be an equitable equation.”
“My SPED learners, especially upper-grade SPED learners, really feel empowered by myON.”
Principal, Jefferson Learning Community
While moments like these jump out, the proof is in the numbers. Since implementing myON, learners have been glued to books. In a span of one school year, learners have read more than 100,000 books and spent 1.15 million minutes reading.
“myON allows us to customize,” said Wise. “We’re all about customization at Jefferson. We can make booklists very quickly and give learners choice.”
Wise and her colleagues at Jefferson plan to continue weaving myON into their curriculum. For example, instead of announcements each morning, Wise blogs the announcements for learners. Within the last few weeks, she and her team have included articles from myON News to encourage more nonfiction reading and it seems to be working! 63 percent of learners’ reading is now nonfiction.
“myON opens doors,” concluded Wise. “For our learners to sit down and easily find books on any interest they have is incredible—especially for English Learners. We have learners who are getting into reading, watching their Lexile levels increase, and reading like never before. myON levels the playing field for them.”