April 04, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Teacher Sharon Voyer holds an iPad and sounds out a letter, then asks Kaylee Weir to do the same and touch the correct word on the screen.
Sharon Voyer, a Harvey Swanson teacher and EXTRA tutor, high-fives Kaylee Weir, first grader, after she selects the correct answer on an iPad in the EXTRA reading support program. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
The little girl concentrates and tentatively reaches out to a word that lights up, showing she is right. A smile lights up the first grade student's face as Voyer gives her a high-five and her fellow classmates cheer.
In just two short weeks of being in the EXTRA after-school reading support program, Kaylee's attitude toward reading has improved dramatically.
"Before, she would throw the book and get really frustrated from trying to sound the words out and not being able to," said Linda Weir, Kaylee's mother. "Now that she's getting the help she needs, she is trying to pronounce the words on her own. It's 100 percent improvement already. Today she got up and asked if she gets to go to her reading program today. She wants to go every day, she is very excited now to read."
This is the first year of the EXTRA program, implemented by Andy Phillips and other Brandon Schools administrators who used about $50,000 of the $338,000 in Title I federal grant funds the district had this school year. About $34,000 of the $50,000 was used to purchase iPads for use in the program. The remaining funds were used to purchase other support, including a variety of books, particularly non-fiction titles, and to offer a stipend to the district teachers who tutor students in the program.
There are about 120 students in the EXTRA program, split evenly between Harvey Swanson Elementary and Oakwood Elementary. The students, about 12 kids per grade at each school, attend EXTRA from 4-5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays for 10 weeks. They are provided with transportation home.
Title I funds are designated only to buildings where a certain percentage of the student population is eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch, but the students chosen for the EXTRA program are selected based on need for reading support only.
"The grant requires that kids who have the gap in achievement are the ones who get services," said Oakwood Principal Kristy Spann. "The grant covers summer school and extra programming… We asked ourselves, 'What can we do to really make a difference? What can we do to give them the extra portion of education they need?'"
EXTRA was the answer.
Assistant Superintendent Carole Beverwyk expects EXTRA to be a recurring program and less expensive to maintain now that the technology pieces have been purchased.
"We think students are excited and find it engaging," she said. "We will test and make improvements and we're excited about how we might structure this for mathematics and give additional help there."
For now, EXTRA is strictly focused on reading and writing.
Sue Tottingham, who has two sons at Harvey Swanson in the EXTRA program, Austin, a third grader, and Owen, a kindergartener, said her boys are enjoying the program.
"When I pick them up, they are excited about the adventures they've gone on," she said. "The teachers have all done their research on getting history books, and books about animals, and the kids are excited about reading. I'm excited, I will do anything to get them to read, because it's a fundamental of learning and when they struggle, it's no fun."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville