Though the school day is over, students at Ánimo James B. Taylor Charter Middle School (JBT) eagerly enter Krystle Braxton’s classroom. They quickly sign in, grab Kindle E-readers, and crowd around a table, eager to read and discuss the book of the month: A Wrinkle in Time. “As a lifelong reader and lover of literature, having the opportunity to further inspire students to embrace reading is one of the most fulfilling parts of my role as an educator. I want our students to love reading,” exclaimed Braxton.
A Novel Start
Students often enter our schools reading below grade level. In fact, on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, fewer than a quarter of students of color across the country were proficient in reading during their senior year of high school. Difficulties in reading affect student performance across other academic areas and critical areas of daily life. Sometimes our students lack access to a wide array of reading materials and lack established habits of reading at home.
That’s why Braxton created JBT’s Reading Club: to serve as an expansion of the school’s Empowered Reading Program, which supports students in quadrupling the volume of reading they complete each year. Empowered Reading provides students access to a wide array of literature, the choice to select texts they feel reflect subjects or characters to which they can relate, and consistent dedicated time to read. Through Empowered Reading, JBT students of all reading levels will read over 1 million words annually, equal to the number of words read by students in the 70th percentile of achievement as measured by standardized tests.
Though it’s only been a few months, students in Reading Club have seen significant growth in their comprehension. “Reading Club has helped me improve my reading. In the beginning of the school year, my SRI score was 227 and now its 539,” beamed Darius Smith, sixth grader at JBT. The Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) is a research-based, computer-adaptive reading program for students in grades K–12 that measures reading comprehension on the Lexile Framework for reading. Smith entered sixth grade reading at a first grade level. Halfway through the school year, she has grown substantially, and is close to reading at a fourth grade level--she’s grown two grade levels in reading in just one semester! With the supports provided during the school day and Reading Club, Smith will continue to grow and close the proficiency gap before entering high school.
“Before I started Reading Club, I did not enjoy reading, but now it’s so much better, I can understand and read more words,” said Jandalynn Jackson, a sixth grader. Jackson began the school year with an SRI score of 600, and just halfway through the year, has already grown to an SRI score of 856. Empowered Reading and Braxton’s Reading Club are just one of the many examples of how Green Dot teachers and staff are meeting students where they are and providing ample supports to help them achieve immense growth.
Learning to Love Literature
When Reading Club launched in August 2018, Braxton was surprised that each Tuesday her classroom was full of students. “At first, to get them comfortable, I would read to them, but as the weeks went on, the students took charge and began leading the reading,” recalled Braxton. It was important that this club serve as a safe space where readers of all levels could come together and share their love for literature. The Reading Club is comprised of high level readers, low level readers, and English language learners. For lower level readers, Reading Club relieves some of the pressure that is often associated with reading aloud in a larger classroom setting.
For English learners, Reading Club provides them with an additional space to develop new vocabulary and syntactic awareness. After reading together, the group discusses what they just read and students present their questions, interpretations, and discoveries to the group. As an English teacher, this is one of Braxton’s favorite moments, as she witnesses students implementing skills they’ve learned in class. The discussion encourages students to analyze text and summarize events in the narrative. “Now when I read, I think more about the story, the characters, and what's happening, so when I write a book summary or share out, I’m able to include more details,” said Samuel Pulido, another sixth grader at JBT.
Many take it for granted, but literacy is a form of power—power over one’s own life. Illiteracy keeps people trapped in a cycle of poverty and limited life choices, making it difficult to achieve social mobility. This is why the educators and staff at JBT have committed to creating a rich culture of literacy at their school. “We strive to show students that you just don't have to read because a teacher is telling you to to read--you can read for fun,” said Braxton.
When JBT began the Empowered Reading program, Braxton suggested the school look into E-reader devices to ensure students had access to a vast library. Empowered Reading and Reading Club has changed the way eighth grader Shaeyla Torres views literacy. “I didn’t like reading, I thought it was boring.” chuckled Torres. “But once I had different types of books and authors, I found out what books I liked, and now I read every day.” In order to build motivation and a true love for reading, students need to be able to select their own books based on their unique interests as readers. By offering a diverse library of literature choices, students are more likely to encounter a wider variety of text and develop a better relationship with reading.
In 2016, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin found that people of color accounted for 22% of children's book characters. Too often students don’t see themselves or their peers in the literature and media they encounter. When students see people like themselves in literature or media, they get a view of who they could become, or what they could do.
“I didn’t like reading, I thought it was boring. But once I had different types of books and authors, I found out what books I liked, and now I read every day.”
-- Shaeyla Torres, 8th grader at JBT
That’s why the Reading Club read Lulu Delacre’s Us in Progress, a collection of short stories that delves into the nuances of the lives of young Latinos and Latinas. Realizing the lack of diverse voices in literature, Braxton was compelled to expose students to works that feature diverse characters written by diverse voices. Students at JBT were so enamored by Delacre’s book that Braxton contacted her to see if the she would speak to the Reading Club. Delacre joined the reading club via Skype to connect with students. Being able to engage with Delacre demonstrated that books just don’t happen, they are the work of real people who are often avid readers themselves. Students left Reading Club realizing that the level of creativity exercised by authors and artists is accessible to them as well.
A Titan For Life
“Once I came to JBT, I knew this was where I was supposed to be, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” exclaimed Braxton. “At JBT, there are high expectations for both the students and the staff. I’ve always set high expectations for myself, so I wanted to be around people who have high expectations and are constantly growing and trying to be better.” Braxton has been an JBT Titan since 2014 and calls the school her home. “Green Dot has given me a safe space where I can explore and express who I am as a teacher and an educator, and has given me the freedom to take chances,” said Braxton.
When Braxton started teaching at JBT, she immediately noticed a difference at Green Dot. Some of her former colleagues from other organizations had little to no support and were struggling as a result, while other colleagues had no autonomy and were not allowed to be creative and explore what worked best for their students. “From day one, Green Dot has given me a level of support where I didn't drown, but not so much that it stifled the creativity I needed as a teacher to best meet the needs of my specific students.”
Braxton’s innovation and passion for literature has created something truly special at JBT. “I strive to show students that reading can take you anywhere,” shared Braxton. “I want our students to love reading, but I also want them to be able to take the knowledge they learn through reading and apply it to their own lives and become better people because of it.”