State College Area School District

State College Area School District expands literacy course for full year in seventh, eighth grades

mmorgan@centredaily.comApril 9, 2014 

Following the success of its academic literacy course for seventh-graders, State College Area School District will now implement the course every day for both seventh and eighth grade starting next year.

The school board voted 5-4 at its meeting Monday to approve the course, and board President Penni Fishbaine said the move should translate to short- and long-range improvements in learning.

“If we start this literacy now, it will help kids when they get to their SATs,” she said.

The course is designed to teach students to read deeper into texts, and offers strategies for learning and critical thinking, administrators have said. The course also offers some non-traditional approaches to teaching English, such as analyzing songs lyrics and other texts that middle school students can relate to.

Fishbaine, who observed some of the classes, said she was impressed by the level of engagement from the students, who seemed like they enjoyed the material.

The class was split this school year, with half taking it in the fall and the rest in the spring.

Some teachers reported that the staggered approach may hurt some students because the ones who enrolled in the first half were more advanced with the concepts. Fishbaine said the consistency in the proposal to offer it every day was another reason she voted to approve the plan.

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

Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said the idea was generated from middle school teachers. He pushed the proposal through because the skills cross the entire curriculum.

He said the proposal falls under one of the district’s core goals relating to responsive teaching and learning. O’Donnell said the communication skills learned in the course will be valuable in high school, college or on the job.

“Students who are effective communicators have more opportunities than students who are not,” he said.

Board members Amber Concepcion, Jim Pawelczyk, Laurel Zydney and Dorothea Stahl voted against the proposal.

Concepcion said Wednesday that she doesn’t want to second-guess the board’s decision, but at the meeting, she said this might not be the best time, with a high school referendum looming, to introduce a new cost.

The proposal would require an additional 41/2 full-time employees.

Pawelczyk said he voted against the plan because the proposal didn’t include a concrete way to measure improvement and show that the course is helping students.

Board member Jim Leous said past presentations from teachers convinced him that the benefit outweighed the cost.

“We invested in literacy,” Leous said.

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