Seventh grader Will Garstka of Stratham reads to members of the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Hampshire as part of a state literacy campaign on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)
New Hampshire residents could soon see simple words on billboards across the state, from “cat” to “star” to “wow.” And their parents might see a bigger message attached: Reading is a joy.
State officials kicked off a campaign Wednesday to encourage literacy learning among children, highlighting National Reading Month as the state grapples with a pandemic-driven dip in reading assessment scores.
Gathering at the State Library in Concord, a handful of children, educators, state officials, and Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut made the case for why reading proficiency is both useful and fun.
“I love to read because when I’m reading, I don’t feel like I’m on the couch or the chair,” said seventh grader Will Garstka of Stratham, standing before a group of younger children from the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Hampshire. “I feel like I’m there in the book experiencing everything.”
The campaign will include print and video advertising that seeks to encourage children to pursue reading and parents to try at-home instruction and consider a training program to teach reading, Edelblut said. Accompanying the simple words will be a slogan: “A love of reading starts with just one word.”
Last year, New Hampshire partnered with a Concord, Mass.-based company, Lexia Learning Systems, to provide that training to educators, parents, and anyone else involved with children. The free course teaches methods to better connect with children who are learning to read, and includes methods based on “reading science,” “phonology,” and “basic and advanced phonics.”
Early childhood education in reading can prove pivotal, said Kathleen McCaffery, the English language arts consultant for the Department of Education.
New Hampshire’s approach is three-pronged, Edelblut said: creating an advertising campaign, training teachers and caregivers in techniques to improve literacy instruction, and updating the state’s teacher training programs to include a more robust focus on literacy.
The effort comes as New Hampshire’s assessment scores have fallen in recent years: Where 54 percent of third graders were found to be proficient in 2018, just 45 percent of third graders were found to be proficient in 2022. Teachers are wrestling with learning gaps brought on by disruptions under COVID-19, which educators say often affected elementary-age students the most.
Danielle Catabia, a reading specialist in the Windham School District, says she has hope that new teaching techniques, including those offered in Lexia, could help educators close that gap.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said in an interview. “So it really is getting those best practices around students and getting our teachers trained, confident, and comfortable so that they can take any student where they’re at and move them forward along their own continuum.”
Parents or caregivers interested in signing up for Lexia can register at https://www.education.nh.gov/partners/leaning-literacy-lexia.
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