City expands thriving literacy program



Many parents tell their children not to spend so much time on the computer and focus instead on their schoolwork. But one educational company has proved that those two activities are anything but mutually exclusive.

On Sept. 24, New Haven school district officials celebrated the success of the Breakthrough to Literacy program in helping pre-kindergarten and kindergarten kids to read. Since the program’s implementation, 77 percent of the children received above average scores on their letter identification tests and 70 percent were at or above the reading level for their grade.

Results indicate that after using the program, most New Haven children showed a drastic improvement in literacy. When the program was first implemented in New Haven kindergarten schools last fall, children were tested on their literacy skills before and after using the program for a year. Test results indicated that before using the program, 75 percent of the children did not know basic skills like how to read left-to-right or which side of the book was up.

Significant improvements were noted among low-income students, and school officials said they see this program as a way to bridge the gap between performances of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Breakthrough, Inc. was founded in 1987 by Carolyn Brown, a former speech pathologist at the University of Iowa, in conjunction with her colleagues Jerry Zimmermann and Richard Hurtig. By 1993, schools across the United States adopted the company’s program, and in 1997, the Wright Group, a subsidiary of the Chicago-based Tribune Co., bought the company and renamed it Breakthrough to Literacy.

Breakthrough to Literacy is a computer-based, teacher-guided program that allows children to use interactive computer software to improve their speaking, writing and reading skills. Children learn the alphabet, phonics and vocabulary, and the computer keeps track of the student’s progress and enables the child’s teacher to find out what his strengths and weaknesses are. The program even sends literacy coaches to schools to train the teachers in using the program.

School officials plan to have all second-grade classrooms using the program by the year 2005. By doing so, they said they hope to increase the number of third-graders reading at their grade level and to reduce the number of fourth-graders who fail the reading portion of the state mastery test.

The program has received many praises from state government officials and educators. Sean Hardy, an assistant teacher at Vincent Mauro Magnet School, said the program is a phenomenal technique for children to use computer skills and learn academics.

“We have seen bilingual kids in lower level classes move into regular level classes after using this program,” Hardy said.

State Department of Education officials emphasized that for the program to continue its success, it must be used correctly. Tom Murphy, the spokesman for the department, said that software cannot be used alone, but as a tool to make teachers more effective.

Department of Education spokeswoman Francis Rabinowitz agreed with Murphy, and said it is important for school districts to make sure any program aligns with what a child should learn by the end of the school year, and to do that the programs must be handled by the teachers.

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