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12/01/2021 08:34 AM

Essex Elementary School Students Break the Code

Essex Elementary School 1st grader Kaiya Poulard reviews one of the school’s new Geodes decodable texts acquired through an Essex Elementary School Foundation grant. Photo courtesy of the Essex Elementary School Foundation

When a child first starts learning to read, decodable texts can be an important tool. These texts provide them more practice in decoding, or sounding out, certain phonics patterns, or words, in the context of a story that they find interesting.

To supplement the Essex Elementary School (EES) collection of these types of texts, the Essex Elementary School Foundation (EESF) provided an $8,600 grant for the 2021–’22 school year for the purchase of new Geodes Decodable Texts that are now being used as part of K-2 instruction.

“Just yesterday I had the pleasure of observing a group of students reading one of the books,” said EES Principal Jennifer Tousignant in a phone interview. “They were actively engaged and genuinely excited to enjoy their new books.”

Tousignant said the books feature a variety of genres and are a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

“The illustrations in these particular books are bright and the story lines are far more interesting than decodables of the past,” said Tousignant. “Decodable readers have certainly come a long way.”

The texts are aligned with and complement the school’s reading curriculum, which is called the Wilson Fundations foundational reading program.

Tousignant said that the phonics and decoding skills taught through the school’s reading program are reinforced with decodable readers.

“Students can use and practice the skills that they were taught and that they learned,” with the decodable readers, said Tousignant.

Decodable texts are often used along with leveled readers.

“Leveled readers are characterized and categorized by level of difficulty,” said Tousignant. “They are more focused on meaning...and contain many sight words.

“So, there are benefits to both and both serve a valuable purpose. Teachers use multiple tools to support and differentiate literacy instruction to meet the needs of our students,” she continued.

Funding for the decodable readers was allocated to the school by EESF prior to the start of the current school year.

“The EESF is really neat, and I feel so fortunate to work with them,” said Tousignant.

She noted that Early Literacy Teacher Colleen Artymiak and Kindergarten Teacher Kelli Grace submitted the formal grant proposal to the foundation.

“Colleen and Kelly were interested in these books, and they came to me,” said Tousignant. “I feel like we could never have too many books and kids get very excited about new books…I fully supported it.”

The Geodes decodable texts were chosen based on their “systematic scope and sequence, which will allow our students to practice the phonics skills that have been explicitly taught in our phonics lessons,” said Artymiak in an email. “Geodes will scaffold children’s mastery and application of the alphabetic code in reading.”

According to a press release, EESF provided $50,000 in grants and program support to EES this school year.

In addition to the decodable texts, the funds support a collaboration with the Essex Historical Society for a Historian in Residence Program, a Summer Math Passport Program, and a Scientist in Residence Program offered by the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center.

Other continued grants and programs include Bloom Art instruction, Lego Engineering and 3D Printing Makerspace afterschool programs. Another new program for the 2021–’22 school year is a collaboration with the Connecticut River Museum “to increase students’ knowledge of their town and connection to the Connecticut River,” according to the press release.

The foundation is also working to develop a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) lab for students and teachers, for the 2022–’23 school year.

“We are thrilled to bring back some favorite learning opportunities in addition to some new collaborations with our local community organizations,” EESF President Bill Jacaruso stated in the press release. “We are grateful for the generous support from our local parents and community members to make these programs possible.”

Essex Elementary School 1st grader Isaac Smith displays one of the school’s new Geodes decodable texts acquired through an Essex Elementary School Foundation grant. Photo courtesy of the Essex Elementary School Foundation