Avenues of Advocacy: Stories of outreach efforts that make a difference
New Mexico: Distinguished visitors support Reader's Café
One of the favorite spring events at Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico is the annual Reader’s Café that draws hundreds of visitors. This year the event involved all of the Reading Recovery students and teachers from Rio Rancho’s 10 elementary schools, as well as parents, school administrators, police and firefighters, National Guard, a golden Labrador retriever and some of his doggie friends, the mayor, city council members, and even New Mexico's Governor Susana Martinez, shown here with a young Reading Recovery fireman.
Building community support
The purpose of the café is to allow the community to see and celebrate the literacy skills of these students who initially struggled with reading and writing. Children have selected and practiced reading favorite books to share with guests. Before the children arrive on buses from around the district, each visitor has received a 1-page explanation of what will happen during the Reader’s Café.
Each child reads to several guests and after each reading, the guest autographs (the Danny look-alike gives a “paw-tograph”) and writes the name of the book on the child’s card. During the event, readers demonstrate their skills to many different listeners. Reading Recovery teachers help children move along and find new listeners.
Reader’s Café began in 2003, when an associates uperintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools suggested that the community and its leadership needed to see and appreciate the success that first graders achieved through their Reading Recovery experience. This personal contact has built support for the value of Reading Recovery even in tough economic times.
After 12 years, the logistics have been refined, but it is still described as “organized chaos.” A drawing of children’s names for the privilege of reading to the dogs helps avoid long lines. The men and women in uniform are also popular listeners.
The event rotates among elementary schools each year with schools providing the decorations. Two sessions were held this year with 100–150 Reading Recovery students at each event and hundreds more guests. The event lasts just one hour, from 10-11 a.m., and then children are loaded in their buses with a cookie and a bottle of water.
Reader’s Café has become one of the highlights of the end-of-school year activities. Building administrators love to hear students from their home campus reading, and students love to read to building administrators. Families are proud of their child’s accomplishment. Community members become aware of the successful use of their tax dollars. It is refreshing to see so many students who have overcome their personal struggle in literacy learning.
Among those enjoying the celebration this year were (left to right) Rio Rancho Mayor Greggory Hall, Governor Susana Martinez, Reading Recovery teacher Bernadette Bachtel, Reading Recovery teacher leader Jolene Reed, Cielo Azul Elementary School Principal Phyllis Lincoln, and Rio Rancho Councilwoman Dawnn Robinson.
Kentucky: Advocacy "allows us to teach our children"
“Advocacy is not separate from teaching children. It is what allows us to teach our children,” says Amy Smith, teacher leader in Kentucky’s Madison County Schools.
Although children are the center of the work for Kentucky’s Reading Recovery community, teacher leaders and teachers never forget the importance of ongoing advocacy and outreach — every day and every year.
At the state, local, and national level
Judy Embry and Lindy Harmon, University of Kentucky Reading Recovery trainers, know that regular communications with school administrators, community leaders, state department of education leadership, and state and federal elected officials keep Reading Recovery’s effectiveness front and center.
“We visit our legislators at the state capital every year, not just in budget years," says Dr. Embry. "We put a face on Reading Recovery.”
The bipartisan support for improving reading in Kentucky translates into funding that allows school districts to make literacy instruction and intervention available to meet children’s needs. In the 2011–12 school year, Reading Recovery reached 3,078 children with 80% completing their lesson series. Also, Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders reached 18,000 additional students in small groups, classrooms, or other teaching settings.
The need for advocacy information goes beyond state officials to key school decision makers. Teacher leader Amy Smith says that the focus on decision-maker information has allowed the Madison County Schools site to sustain Reading Recovery through 11 years in 10 schools, with 30 different principals, 3 site coordinators, 4 special education directors, and 4 superintendents. The administrators, Amy says, ask these questions:
Are the programs cost-effective?
Are students maintaining learning gains over time?
How have interventions impacted overall school achievement?
To answer these questions, Madison County County Schools Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders
report student data, including longitudinal data, to district administrators, principals, and school board members;
collect letters and videos of support from stakeholders and utilize them in their outreach;
provide information to their superintendent to share with legislators and education department officials;
disseminate legislator names and contact information to faculty colleagues, staff, and parents with talking points and tips for appropriate contact;
email legislators following the legislative session with student vignettes and evidence of program success; and
update colleagues on their efforts and plan for next steps additional actions.
The University of Kentucky trainers also take the lead in liaison with Kentucky’s members of Congress. At least once each year, they travel to Washington, DC, to meet in their offices and advocate for comprehensive literacy policy and adequate funding. In fact, their relationship with Rep. John Yarmuth was a catalyst for his introduction of the LEARN (Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation) Act in the House of Representatives last session. Also introduced by Sen. Susan Murray this session, this comprehensive literacy program language is the basis of the literacy component of Sen. Tom Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill, passed out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in June.