State College Area School district may expand academic literacy course

mmorgan@centredaily.comMarch 18, 2014 

— Riding the early success of its seventh-grade academic literacy course, State College Area School District is looking to expand it to a daily class for both seventh- and eighth-graders.

Administrators and teachers presented an initial report to the school board at its meeting Monday, explaining the current successes and plans for expansion.

To make room for the class, the district would cut 20 minutes off its extended homeroom and change the class time from 43 minutes to 40 minutes, creating an extra period for academic literacy. The advising period that will be cut from the extended homeroom at the beginning of the day would be added to the end of the day twice in the six-day cycle.

The course is designed to teach critical thinking and advanced reading strategies for students that can be used across the curriculum and incorporated into several content areas, Curriculum Director Jacquelyn Martin said.

“Academic literacy is just not about reading,” she said. “In a nutshell, it’s about students understanding themselves as readers and thinkers.”

Right now, the district is offering the course to half of the seventh-grade students at a time. At the completion of the course for the first half of the students, 94 percent said they had a mostly positive experience in a reflective essay and the remaining 6 percent all said they learned new critical thinking and reading skills.

The district began offering the course at the beginning of the current school year.

The aim of expanding the class to the eighth grade would be to go more in-depth with the skills learned the first year and give the students a chance to expand those skills. The course was not originally designed to correct any deficiencies in the curriculum, rather to expand the opportunities for students and make them more well-rounded, said Jason Perrin, supervisor of elementary and middle level education.

If the board approves the course at a future meeting, the staff would begin writing the specific curriculum and objectives, and they would aim to start it at the beginning of the next school year. The proposal would require 4½ full time employees.

Sixth-grade students would also see a change in their schedules to keep a uniform schedule structure. The extra period would be used for additional core instruction time for those students.

Board member Laurel Zydney said she had a concern that the literacy course is something that could be integrated into a normal English class and that it could be taking away from other class time.

But English teacher turned academic literacy teacher Bobbi Knapp said the additional time to focus on reading and critical thinking skills is sorely needed for the students.

She said academic literacy gives them a chance to go deeper into the subject and allow kids to delve into literature outside of the normal texts books and English curriculum.

“As an English teacher, being here for 13 years, I think this is the best decision we could have made,” she said.

And just because its not a widely taught at every school district now, board member Scott Fozard pointed out that it could be something all districts look to in the future.

He said that there was a time when people didn’t think technology needed its own block in the schedule.

“This is about being adaptive within our curriculum,” he said.

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