'Tulsa Reads' getting students to read

Tuesday, January 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Tulsa Public Schools won't settle for below-average reading skills. Last year, first graders in the district scored in the 46th percentile, which means 54% of the nation's first graders scored higher with the same test. Now there's a program teaching teachers to teach.

News on Six reporter Tami Marler says the program is called 'Tulsa Reads', and teachers may be learning as much as the students. Six-year-old Antwan Brown has very strong opinions about Jacob Karl reading Harry Potter books. “No because my mom said that they put something in your books, like bad or something." But they're 1st graders, and they're reading, and so are their classmates at Emerson Elementary School. “Yes, I hope you know you have to be out the door."

Emerson students have been focused on reading for about five years. Records show Emerson's scores have gone up each year since they started a 4-block reading program, a trend the entire district hopes to mimic. Emerson principal Jane Barnes, "It's a focus for teachers, it's a focus for the district. This year our district focus is reading and it provides my teachers an opportunity to study and improve their skills." Improving those skills means teachers will need training. That means kids will be out seven days this school year while teachers take classes. "It teaches me new learning strategies, reading strategies, good practices."

A teacher at Emerson, Marilyn Bridges says she learns games and techniques that help her make learning more fun for her first graders. "You punch the continents; like green it's "g" "r" and on the vowels you kick so it's "g-r-e-e-n. It's just that physical activity that connects the brain and helps the learning. It's fun; it gets your heart beating. It does not get your heart beating? Yeah it does, it gets your heart working. Nuh uh, when you breathe, sometimes you have to breathe [breath]. And it gets your brain working doesn't it? Yes, it gets your brain working."

'Tulsa Reads' is certainly generating discussion, and enthusiasm on all sides. Barnes, "And not only for just new teachers coming in, but teachers that have been here for a while to be conscious of what maybe we have done in the past, but with a new twist on it."

Marler spoke with someone from the Catholic Diocese, just as a comparison, Catholic schools take an average of a half-day a month for teacher training. Union Public Schools take about six days a year. Even though teachers are taking about seven days for training, school still gets out May 25th.