TCOE levels up student literacy rates

Tulare County Office of Education spotlights its efforts to improve literacy rates amongst students with convening of learning

TULARE COUNTY – Last year, the Tulare Office of Education began putting a $5 million grant from the state to use to improve student reading achievements. Now this year, the office is showing off the ways it is working towards that goal.

On April 19, the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) was able to present its efforts to its grant distributors, the California Department of Education (CDE). According to Jenean Bray, co-lead of TCOE’s comprehensive literacy state development readership grant, the office did a full-day presentation spotlighting what the office has accomplished in its mission thus far.

“[It covers] when we brought hundreds of teachers together four times during this year, the author’s we have brought in to talk,” Bray said in an interview before the convening. “They’re going to hear about that, as well as the focus on family literacy and what that looks like here in our town and county.”

According to Bray, CDE leadership and two new co-directors of literacy from CDE attended the gathering along with the other education offices that were awarded the grant. The grant was awarded amongst seven districts considered literacy lead agencies in CDE’s statewide literacy priority; TCOE was chosen as the sixth priority for its lead on effective literacy and comprehensive English language development for English learning students.

“Our focus is on adolescents in grades six through 12,” Bray said. “It’s about creating motivation to read, which increases the volume of reading, which in turn, improves reading achievement.”

Although TCOE supports all grade levels in literacy, Bray noted that when the office applied for the grant, it noticed a large need amongst middle and high school levels. Nationally, she said data and statistics show that by around age nine, students stop showing an interest in reading; so to address that, TCOE applied for the grant to help change that outcome amongst its students.

Now in its second year of implementing the grant from CDE, Bray said TCOE has worked to put a strong focus on community and family engagement in literacy with its grant award. The office has partnered with the likes of the Reading RX program at Book Nook in downtown Visalia, the Little Library at ImagineU Children’s Museum, free books for foster and homeless youth at the Foster Youth Dream Center, a model district library at the Visalia Unified School District Learning Center, a model school library at Ridgeview Middle School and a model county library for schools at TCOE’s Educational Resource Center.

“Books in the home are so important,” Bray said. “We’ve looked for access points where they can give books to children and their families to keep.”

In addition to partnerships, Bray said the office works to curate a classroom library for its teachers full of current book titles. She also said that school libraries receive $5,000 in books every year as well as community family literacy books, which are books vetted through the CDE recommended literature list.

On how the grant has helped TCOE to grow readership amongst students thus far, Bray confirmed that students are steadily becoming more accustomed to reading. She said their confidence, articulation, vocabulary and reading achievements have gone way up and they feel as if they understand other people much better.

“We were creating a video to show the voices of the students and what the teachers have done in the school to empower them as readers, and they brought in stacks of books they have been reading and told stories about how reading made them feel seen, and their voices heard,” Bray said.

In addition to the presentation on April 19, Bray said the visitors from CDE and other offices of education visited each location TCOE has partnered with and heard about the connections being made. Additionally, they will be able to participate in an activity with a type of passport, so as they travel from spot to spot, they can get a stamp per location through their literacy journey.

“That’s the activity everyone will participate in so that they understand the value of partnering with the community and with businesses and with health organizations to empower readers and families,” Bray said.

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