IGNITE THE FAITH: Catholic school students soar in individualized reading

New curriculum, school’s facelift fueled by Ignite the Faith

Many recent improvements at St. Mary School in Wayne are clearly visible: freshly painted walls and new floor coverings and window blinds; Chromebooks and iPads for each student; new computers for teachers; and projectors, speakers and other equipment for classrooms.

What is not so visible, but even more important, is what’s going on in the minds of students, who are improving in reading through a new curriculum that focuses on each student individually, parents and educators say.

The program is called Guided Reading, and donations to the archdiocese’s Ignite the Faith have helped put it in place – along with all the physical improvements at the school.

St. Mary began Guided Reading in 2017. The school had purchased the program’s assessment materials that helped determine the reading level of each student along with 648 books tailored to multiple reading levels in each classroom.

So instead of one classroom of students reading the same textbook, students could pick out books at their own level.

“We look at where (the students) are and what they need most,” Principal Stacy Uttecht said.

With 42 students and four teachers, the school prides itself on the small, combined-grade classrooms and the individual attention students receive. The new Guided Reading program furthers that aim, Uttecht said.

In some cases, the school has seen assessment scores go up for students who had been struggling in reading, she said. But the improvements can be seen less formally, too.

As both a teacher and parent, Jilliane Alleman has seen the results. At home, she’s noticed her children taking more interest in books. 

“They’ve been little sponges lately, just reading more at home,” Alleman said.

 In her combined fifth- and sixth-grade classroom, she said, students are reading more novels and full-length books and not just short stories.

Guided Reading helps struggling readers, high-achieving students and those in between, she said.

For those in the highest levels of reading, “there’s no glass ceiling for them,” Alleman said. “They can just keep going.”

Those who struggle get more individual attention, partly because the students at higher levels tend to be more independent, she said. Volunteers help by listening to students as they read and giving them more one-on-one time.

Student achievement is assessed every six weeks or so, Alleman said, and the results show Guided Reading is helping improve comprehension and fluency.

Karissa Hays, a parent and school board member, said she has two boys who don’t particularly enjoy reading and a daughter who can’t get enough of it. And all of them are improving under the Guided Reading program, she said.

Her sons are becoming more fluent and feel more comfortable reading, Hays said, while her daughter is reading a year ahead of her grade.

Her daughter is competitive by nature, she said. And Guided Reading “definitely encourages her to still do better.”

Uttecht said St. Mary is a small school that provides “a big education,” which is made even better because it integrates faith into all parts of the school day.

“It’s just a wonderful school, a faith-based option for parents in Wayne.”

All the upgrades at the school have been “a big project” that wouldn’t have been possible without Ignite the Faith donations.

“We have great school families and parishioners (at St. Mary Parish in Wayne), but we don’t have extra funds for projects like that.”

The upgrades, including Guided Reading, makes St. Mary a good choice for families who want a Catholic education for their children, Uttecht said.

“I think our kids … deserve to have every learning opportunity, every positive opportunity … that the public school kids have. Because their parents want the best for them. And we want the best for them as well. They matter. … We don’t want to give them second best.”

The Ignite the Faith funding, Uttecht said, has “helped immensely.”


For more coverage on Ignite the faith, see our E-Edition here.

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