St. Louis Park-based Groves Academy will team up with Boys & Girls Clubs on reading initiative

Groves Academy teacher Susan Martinson teachers a class. (Submitted photo) Groves Academy students read in a classroom. The school is assisting the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities in teaching literacy to young students. (Submitted photo) Groves Academy Head of School John Alexander plays chess with a student. He is helping to lead an effort to promote the school’s framework outside the St. Louis Park-based academy. (Submitted photo) Groves Academy students hang out in the school’s media center. Leaders of the school credit a literacy framework for helping students advance. (Submitted photo)
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Groves Academy Head of School John Alexander plays chess with a student. He is helping to lead an effort to promote the school’s framework outside the St. Louis Park-based academy. (Submitted photo)

An endeavor by St. Louis Park-based Groves Academy to extend its style of teaching reading beyond its walls has led to a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.

Staff at Groves Academy will share their methods of helping students improve their literacy skills, including minute-long drills used to determine how a student is progressing. The school, founded in 1972, serves students in grades one through 12 with dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other learning disabilities and attention disorders.

After learning about the Groves Academy techniques, instructors with the Boys & Girls Clubs will provide assistance for 120-125 first-grade and second-grade students at five locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Terryl Brumm, interim president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.

All of the students who will receive reading help through the initiative qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in public schools. Education officials often use the statistic as a measure of students from low-income households.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools, only 24 percent of students are reading at the level they should be at by third grade, according to data from the Generation Next coalition, Brumm said.

“We know off the bat that our kids we’re targeting for this program, first- and second-graders, are already kids who are behind,” she said. “The school day is just not enough for them to get caught up.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities have had an after-school program focused on literacy skills for kids in kindergarten through second grade for about six years, Brumm said.

“In the last year, we decided we needed to find a way to really get to the root cause of why kids weren’t learning to read,” she said.

The clubs wanted to invest in staff training in a program with assessments and curriculum that could “really move the needle for our kids,” Brumm said.

If the clubs can help students read at grade level by third grade, “We know we can get them to a place where they’re much more successful in school,” Brumm said.

Leaders of the clubs decided to focus on first-and second-grade students because more have been identified as being behind already than younger students in kindergarten.

If the initiative shows success, it could be expanded to more grade levels for the clubs’ after-school programming. However, Brumm said funding also plays a role. The Boys & Girls Clubs are seeking to raise another $300,000 in the next year to pay for increasing staff time and other costs of the initiative.

Brumm noted she has known Groves Academy Head of School John Alexander for a number of years.

“The work he’s done with Groves Academy students is so impressive,” she said, noting that students served by Groves Academy and the clubs are similar except for socioeconomic factors. “The high success rate is something that can’t be ignored.”

Groves expands its reach

Last year, Groves Academy opened its Learning Center on its upper level. The center provides diagnostic services, tutoring, speech and language assistance, assistive technology and career counseling outside of the Groves classrooms.

The Learning Center has proven so popular that the school is undergoing a renovation to allow it to expand. Although the school serves about 250 students, the Learning Center is allowing it to reach hundreds more who don’t go to school at the academy, Groves Academy Director of Marketing Steve Hall said.

The school has already provided teacher training in a workshop for about 30 teachers from the Minnetonka School District, and leaders are in discussions for similar training for Wayzata School District teachers.

“We’ve been doing teacher training with teachers in classrooms,” Hall said. “We’re now expanding that to after-school programs and expanding it outside the classroom.”

He added, “We’re really passionate about helping as many kids as we can because there are a lot of kids who are really struggling out there.”

Literacy framework

The Groves Academy Literacy Framework is a system that aims to provide quality core instruction by focusing on areas like phonics, fluency, vocabulary development and comprehension. It involves frequent progress monitoring involving formal and informal assessments, with curriculum-based measurements taken weekly with some students.

If students are not making progress, an intervention will be planned relating to the specific skill that is lagging in development, according to the framework.

Its response-to-intervention model calls for daily small group instruction with materials that supplement the instruction in a larger group.

“Small group instruction will occur for as long as the student requires it,” the framework states.

Students who still do not make progress in small group sessions will receive individualized instruction on a daily basis.

Another section of the framework calls for professional learning communities.

“We envision weekly grade-level team meetings to review student progress or lack of progress,” the framework states. “Teams will work together to identify student progress concerns and to formulate intervention plans for individual students.”

Finally, the framework calls for ongoing professional development so instructors keep current with research in the field.

Groves Academy Director of Literacy Katharine Krogness Campbell said she will visit each of the five Boys & Girls Clubs sites that are a part of the initiative weekly. If coordinators need assistance, Campbell said she’ll have conversations with them about how best to teaching spelling words or reading concepts.

“This framework is currently helping students at Groves advance over two grade levels in reading per academic year,” Campbell said in a statement. “Now we’re ready to share this approach with other schools and organizations to help close Minnesota’s large and looming reading achievement gap.”

Looking ahead

Supporters of the initiative with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities have focused on raising funds from foundations and individuals for one year of programming, Alexander said.

“But with the results we should get, we’re hoping it’s a self-perpetuating program,” he said.

Alexander said he hopes the results will attract the attention of school district leaders in Minneapolis and St. Paul so that the framework might be considered for use during the school day in the urban districts as well as at the clubs’ after-school programs.

Training for staff members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities is expected to begin in August. Instruction for children is set to begin in September.

Brumm said Groves Academy is tailoring the program for her organization.

“John and Katharine have worked really, really carefully with our staff to develop a program that meets our needs and the needs of our staff so we’re not just doing a Groves program,” Brumm said. “That’s why I believe it’s going to have the impact on our kids because it’s meeting our kids where they’re at.”

She noted that besides funding, the Boys & Girls Clubs are seeking volunteers who can help tutor children alongside staff.

“We see this as a true partnership,” Brumm said.

For more information on the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities, visit boysandgirls.org. To learn more about Groves Academy, visit grovesacademy.org.

Contact Seth Rowe at seth.rowe@ecm-inc.com