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Published December 12, 2019
The University of Wyoming Literacy Research Center and Clinic’s (LRCC) Outreach Advisory Board bestowed the 2019 Carol Mead Leaders in Literacy Award upon Natrona County School District 1’s Evansville Elementary School.
Representatives of the LRCC, the John P. Ellbogen Foundation and Natrona County School District visited the school to confer the award and celebrate with students and staff.
During the celebration, the LRCC’s director, UW Associate Professor Dana Robertson, presented Evansville Elementary School Principal Wayne Tuttle with a plaque and a check to the school for $4,000.
“The work of promoting and improving literacy is truly a collaborative effort. We can do more in collaboration than we can alone,” Robertson says. “Recognizing the wonderful work of schools, organizations and individuals around the state speaks to the importance of a statewide and sustained effort, and it serves as one way to honor their efforts in helping us meet our goals.”
The school was named the recipient of the award after repeatedly achieving “excelling schools” status within the Natrona County School District -- and being named a National Distinguished Title 1 School. This improvement is in stark contrast to 2016-17 data that showed the school needed to improve its language arts/reading instruction.
That unfavorable data is what spurred Evansville Elementary to start working with the UW LRCC. The school staff and LRCC faculty began a partnership to evaluate Evansville’s curriculum and teaching methods, with the goal to improve language arts/reading instruction. In order to reach its goals, the school staff had to work to evaluate and improve teaching methods based on student needs and hard data.
With a plan in place, Evansville staff members engaged students around vocabulary and the love of words, in addition to active reading, so they could expand their abilities to recognize and know the meaning of new words. To improve their instruction, staff members completed peer observation during lessons; held monthly meetings to discuss the changes they were making; and met with leaders at the LRCC to ensure they were on track to achieve the goals outlined in their plan.
The team’s hard work paid off. Evansville staff members have refined their skills in literacy instruction, and achievement data in language arts/reading has improved greatly. Acquiring the “excelling schools” status is hard evidence that the team’s efforts were not in vain.
“The Outreach Advisory Board saw the work happening at Evansville Elementary as being innovative, impactful and sustainable,” Robertson says. “The school faculty has worked hard to collectively identify needs; construct a professional development approach that is sustainable; hold high expectations for students and teachers alike; and put instructional practices in place to ensure that all students succeed. Their outcomes attest to their school-wide dedication.”
For the second time ever, the LRCC Outreach Advisory Board decided to present an honorable mention award this year. Teacher Beth Hinkle, of Fremont County School District 1’s Lander Valley High School (LVHS), received the honorable mention award and earned a $3,000 check for her school.
Hinkle started an initiative that focused on “choice reading.” She gave students a chance to choose a book to read for the first 20 minutes of class, instead of having one assigned to them. This changes the motivation for students to read and resulted in the largest number of students visiting the school’s library and checking out books in five years. Hinkle’s idea grew and is now a language arts initiative at LVHS that has been adopted by other educators in the department.
Another aspect of Hinkle’s literacy work is community-focused. She started having “book talks” in her classroom to get students excited about reading. These talks saw 60 adults and 40 students make presentations about their favorite books over the last year to high school students. Hinkle has introduced even more innovative ideas to increase literacy, such as book bingo; a book club; weekly academic vocabulary announcements; and low-stakes, voluminous writing practices.
“Beth Hinkle has not only changed student outlook on reading, but also has changed the culture at Lander Valley High School and the community,” Robertson says. “Through Beth’s work, we affirm the research findings that simple changes to bring more choice into secondary students’ reading habits can have big payoffs for student engagement and achievement.”
The Carol Mead Leaders in Literacy Award is a way to recognize and honor Wyoming citizens, organizations, businesses or communities that have made substantial contributions that enhance the literacy development among the Wyoming community. Formerly known as the First Lady’s Leaders in Literacy Award, the honor was established in 2016 by the LRCC Outreach Advisory Board to recognize the work of Wyoming’s former first lady, Carol Mead, to promote literacy education throughout the state. This year, the award was renamed to honor the legacy of the former first lady and her impact on the literacy and education of students in Wyoming.