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Literacy program marks 1st year


The Haines Borough School District will adapt its early-childhood literacy program to accommodate for a shift in staffing.

The program was launched a year ago to help make younger students proficient in reading, under the direction of teacher Jeanne Kitayama.

Kitayama is taking a five-month substitute position teaching third grade. Efforts at helping teachers boost literacy will be centered in her classroom, where other teachers will visit to observe her reading and writing workshops, said principal Cheryl Stickler.

Teachers will return to their classrooms and apply what they learned, Stickler said. Kitayama will maintain her duties as literacy coordinator, with some small changes.

In addition to providing literacy support for early childhood educators at the school and measuring academic progress, Kitayama has been working to raise public awareness of the importance of reading to and speaking to young children.

The biggest accomplishment in the past year has been the establishment of the Children’s Reading Foundation of Haines, a nonprofit under the national organization, Kitayama said.

A goal of the foundation is to hold an event each month to raise awareness and get parents “out and about” with their kids, helping to increase vocabularies.

“It’s a way to get parents out, doing things and talking with their children,” she said. “If adults talk, and sing, and play with their kids, and take that time, it really helps. It’s a big part of literacy. Statistically, in the long run, these kids do better (throughout their years in school).”

The Haines foundation’s board of directors organizes monthly events. Some have included book give-aways at holiday bazaars, storytelling evenings, I Spy in Haines, Haines Passports to Reading, and Week of the Young Child crafts.

“I believe that if we can build awareness of the great value of talking, reading, singing, with children… we will see children coming to school ready and eager to learn. Their vocabularies will expand and their lives will be more enriched. It’s prime time for brain development in those early years,” Kitayama said.

The programs are funded by grants from local foundations, businesses and community groups and the school district. 

Stickler said the school is working on judging the effectiveness of the programs.

Every month, teachers have a two-hour meeting where they discuss and coordinate lesson plans focusing on developing a specific skill, like narrative writing. Teachers then collect data on how students are progressing with respect to that skill.

“The data collection is so short-term right now that we can start identifying possible trends, but we just need more time and we need more data to solidify any assumptions we can derive,” Stickler explained.

Though a dependable data sample has yet to be collected, Stickler is confident Kitayama is already having a strong positive influence on the reading and writing abilities of students.

“The success of this early literacy approach is largely due to Jeanne’s vision and her commitment to this and her level of expertise in early literacy,” Stickler said.

Though Kitayama will now be subbing in addition to working as the literacy coordinator, Stickler said she’s confident Kitayama will excel at both jobs. “She assured me that it’s doable, because that was a question I had for her, too.”

Kitayama has set up ties with corporations and local resources such as REACH, Inc. and the Haines Public Library, so the legwork has been done, Stickler said.

Kitayama will substitute teach until mid-March, when she will resume her regular duties as the literacy coordinator.