Letter To The Editor: How Restoring A Pair Of Reading Specialists Will Change How Belmont Schools Support Literacy Growth

Photo: A reading specialist’s job

Seventeen.

That is the number of students who, out of the roughly 1,400 children between grades 5-8 in Chenery Middle School, were able to receive in-school reading support prior to January 31st, 2022. That is the date that funding took effect to create two dedicated Reading Specialist positions for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year, fundamentally changing how the school has been able to support the literacy growth of its students.

We are writing this letter to the decision-makers of this town because these positions have been eliminated for the 2022-23 school year, and the time to act to restore them is now – before we leave more of our neediest students behind.

Since their transition to this role in January, the impact that Jen Mathews and Taylor Moroso – our two trained and certified Reading Specialists – have had on growing the reading skills of our students has been profound, and we would be failing some of our highest-need students to not have these positions continue into next year.

Due to their other job requirements prior to the funding taking effect, Jen and Taylor were previously able to spend only one 47-minute block per day offering Reading Enrichment classes to students identified as most needing this extra support during the school day. Since being able to pivot to working with students as full-time Reading Specialists in January, Jen and Taylor have been able to focus entirely on supporting students as they strive to achieve their literacy goals, not only through facilitating the small Reading Enrichment groups but also by supporting students in their ELA classrooms – something that was previously not possible.

Since these positions were added, the following positive impacts have been observed:

  • The amount of students being able to receive regular reading intervention services increased from 17 to 59. That is 42 students who were screened and identified as requiring additional support to reach grade-level reading goals but that previously received no reading intervention beyond what was offered in the classroom.
  • Students who receive reading support have also been able to be supported in their ELA classrooms on a regular basis – this helps the teachers and specialists observe how they work not only in small groups, but also support the development of bespoke interventions that can be applied in the classroom for each student individually. In the 14 ELA classrooms the Reading Specialists have been able to support, they have been able to work with students from a variety of skill levels to help lift the confidence and skill levels of all students through their classroom work. Further, this work has enabled the specialists to identify students who may benefit from additional reading support.
  • Some of our highest need students, including those from diverse racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, have been able to be supported in the classroom in ways that were previously not possible. Further, students whose literacy skills atrophied due to COVID and remote-related challenges have been able to experience success while supported by these interventions.

The proposed 2022-23 budget eliminates both of these positions, and as a result eliminates every single one of these benefits.

We implore the decision-makers of the town: the School Committee, Select/Planning Boards, and the citizens of Belmont, to not accept the fact that our school of 1,400 students will only have seventeen students receive small group reading instruction. To, rather than perpetuate a problem that has existed for years where we underserve these students, take a step toward a solution.

To make the decision to support all students, including our highest-need students still reeling from pandemic setbacks, in building their literacy skills. All it will cost to restore all of these crucial supports for many of our most vulnerable students is the 1.6 teacher positions that were added for the second half of this school year.

We are of the belief that there are not many ways to spend the town’s resources more effectively than this. If you agree that there are more than 17 students out of the 1,400 children in Chenery Middle School that need reading support, then you need to raise your voice, be heard, and restore these positions immediately for the 2022-23 school year and beyond.

Alex Goldsmith and Caitlin Corrieri

English/Language Arts Teachers

Chenery Middle School

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