'Read and Rise' Helps Parents Encourage Children to Achieve Reading Goals

By Janet Fawcett, Ed.D., Principal at Highlands Elementary in Renton, WA

Janet Fawcett More than 60% of the students at Highlands Elementary School in Renton, Washington live in homes where English is the not the primary language spoken. Knowing this fact, the Highlands’ staff had been searching for quite awhile to find ways to help all parents support reading at home.

Language is just one of the many challenges our families and students face. Parents face daunting challenges such as insufficient access to books, knowledge about how to help children practice reading, and lack of knowledge about how their first language can support English literacy acquisition.

So when Craig Shurick, a fellow Principal and Scholastic Book Fairs Literacy Partner, presented the “Read and Rise” family reading program to the Highlands leadership team, we believed this event, combined with a Klutz Build-a-Book activity, and the excitement of a Book Fair, would help us achieve our goals.

Our school librarian, Jennifer Lin, enthusiastically agreed to work with our staff and PTA to host a Book Fair in conjunction with our Read and Rise event.

We set a date and recruited Erica Anderson, one of our highly skilled Highlands teachers, to be the facilitator and trainer for this event. Erica went through the easy online training and developed a quick and simple lesson plan for our evening event.

To get started, classroom teachers selected about 50 students in grades K-4 to invite. Teachers selected students they felt would benefit from additional at-home support, such as English Language Learners (ELL) students, as well as students whose parents had previously expressed interest in supporting reading efforts at home. They then sent personal invitations to students’ homes and made phone calls to families to explain how this event would teach fun and interesting ways to help their child with reading at home. About 25 families responded to our invitation, which brought about 100 people to the event.

We were also fortunate to have sponsorship from King Parker, owner of King & Bunny’s Appliances and a Renton City Council Member, who generously donated funds so that every child attending the event received a $5.00 reading certificate to select their own books at the Book Fair.

Students enjoyed a visit from Clifford the Big Red Dog (Carol Sipple, a Title I staff member dressed in the costume) and participated in small group literacy activities for their specific ages, reading books and enjoying literacy activities together, while their parents learned how to use their own resources, culture, language, and experiences to enhance literacy.

Parents were given information about the importance of oral language for reading development, how to develop phonological awareness using songs and rhymes, beginning reading activities to learn letters and sounds, and reading comprehension activities. They were also informed that reading with, and to, their children in their home language would facilitate language development in English.

The highlight of the evening came when parents and children were reunited for the Klutz Build-a-Book event. Our staff at Highlands worked with the families to help them create a story of their own, using the fun materials provided in each kit. And the pride in their efforts was visible!

When the Build-a-Book activity concluded, each student was given a reading certificate to shop at the Book Fair where they selected their very own new books for FREE! Every student went home with at least two books! This was a great help to families who may have difficulty accessing books for their home libraries.

Through Read and Rise, parents were able to see how their newfound knowledge helped their children with reading skills in a fun and relaxed way. The Highlands students and families were so excited about their increased understanding of literacy.

Several important things we learned:
  • Parents are enthusiastic about helping their children become readers.
  • This was a powerful and effective use of Title I Parent Involvement funds. The only expense was the Klutz Build-a-Book kits – and many schools will find that local businesses are happy to donate funds to cover that cost. It’s exciting to think that a full classroom can participate for under $150!
  • Read and Rise, combined with Build-a-Book, and a Book Fair, encourages parents to be determined to help their child learn to read.
  • Logistically, a small group of families, in our case 25, is very effective. We initially felt like we targeted only a few families, but in the end, we realized that if we had included more, we would have been overwhelmed and less effective in teaching and training parents and students.
  • Read and Rise training is a vehicle to help parents connect with each other in our community.
  • If we are to reach the families of our English Language Learners, an interpreter for the program is essential.
  • We will do this again, because the structure of Read and Rise and the Klutz Build-a-Book event makes it both easy and affordable. Consequently, we will probably repeat this activity several times throughout the year.
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