Maryland Principal Drives Home the Importance of Literacy

Principal Stephanie Brant
Gaithersburg Elementary School
Gaithersburg, Md.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the summer, adults and children alike have lined the streets of Gaithersburg, Md., in anticipation of the familiar gray Acura RDX driven by Gaithersburg Elementary School Principal Stephanie Brant.

Stephanie’s Acura has become the school’s unofficial bookmobile. For the second year in a row, she has delivered free books throughout her school district to help encourage students – and even adults – to read over the summer. This summer the impassioned principal estimates she delivered about 3,000 books, many of which were donated and some bought by Stephanie herself.

“At the end of the day, they need to make sure they have food on the table,” she says. “Providing books for their kids is not a concern I want them to have,” she says.

Summer reading practice primes the students for the school year, when Stephanie – a former reading recovery and first- and second-grade teacher – tells her teachers to nix the traditional take-home worksheets that commonly consume students’ evenings and to replace homework with reading time. Her unconventional approach has earned Stephanie media attention in her community, an immigrant-heavy area where 82 percent of her students live in poverty.

With so many parents lacking extensive educations or having poor English language skills, Stephanie felt compelled to meet families at their point of need. “Instructional tools weren’t available at home,” she says. “We must give parents and teachers the tools they need to be successful.”

With reading the primary focus at Gaithersburg Elementary, home libraries topped the list of important tools. “At every event we have all year long – four open houses and every evening event – we give out handfuls of books. On kids’ birthdays, I give out books. Randomly as well as quarterly, we’ll give kids new books that are on their instructional reading levels.”

To ensure ongoing access to books over the summer, Stephanie also keeps the media center open to her students. “At many schools, students can only take out one book a week. Our kids visit the media center as often as they like.” She and her teachers also build time into each school day when children read independently.

Stephanie enforced her no-homework policy with the launch of the 2011-2012 school year and is collecting data to measure her students’ success over five- and 10-year spans. For now she focuses on individual successes, such as the first- and second-graders who are now reading above their grade-level benchmarks.

However, some results are readily apparent. “I love that sometimes my kids are tripping over one another as they leave in the afternoon because they’re reading as they’re walking,” Stephanie laughs. “I feel as if I’m building a reading culture and a love for literacy.”

To learn more about the latest research from Drs. Richard Allington and Ann McGill-Franzen on the importance of access and choice in promoting literacy, click here.

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