GLOVERSVILLE – When one fifth-grade teacher in the Gloversville Enlarged School District saw the scores of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students on their English Language Arts exams from 2019, she decided she wanted to think more broadly about improving literacy rates and the preparedness of district children.
Those pre-COVID scores showed that proficiency on the exam, which measures reading and writing skills, was reached by 36% of third-graders, 34% of fourth-graders, and 22% of fifth-graders, according to data from the state Department of Education.
So Nancy Brown, who has spent 18 years teaching at Boulevard Elementary School, launched the “Talking is Teaching” initiative this past spring, with the hope of impressing upon parents the importance of conversing with their children.
Brown adapted the program from materials she found on the Clinton Foundation website and began working with both district Superintendent David Halloran and city Mayor Vincent DeSantis to implement the program.
“It is really a big community effort,” said Brown, “a partnership between the school district and the city of Gloversville. They have been wonderful.”
The ‘talking is teaching’ campaign helps parents “turn small moments into opportunities for meaningful interactions,” according to the Clinton Foundation website. “Simple, everyday interactions with young children – like describing objects seen during a walk or bus ride, singing songs, or telling stories – can build their vocabularies, prepare them for school, and lay a strong foundation for their social-emotional development, health, and lifelong development.”
Brown is promoting this message about how important talking is to the development of children through a partnership with pediatricians at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville. She, along with Halloran, and Helen Stuetzel, the school district’s literacy consultant, are working to create “prescription pads” for the pediatricians to discuss talking and reading with the parents of young children, Brown said.
They are also putting up “Talking is Teaching” posters on all 14 of the city’s buses to get the message out, DeSantis said. The posters read “Let’s talk about the bus. Talking is teaching” and include examples of simple conversation starters for parents.
Along with the partnership between the school district, the local hospital and city busses, Brown organized a collaborative effort between the school district and the Gloversville Public Library on a series of free “little libraries.”
Since the program began in March, the district and public library have put up 11 free little libraries. A little library has been installed at each of the three elementary schools, and eight others are scattered across the community.
The little libraries are open 24/7, and kids are permitted to keep books that they enjoy from the library, Brown said.
According to Steutzel, many areas in the city are “book deserts,” where kids cannot get to the library and do not have easy access to books, which severely hampers their development as readers. “It’s really quite fun because some people in Gloversville don’t have transportation to the library, so [now] people get instant access,” said Steutzel.
The city purchased two of the libraries, and helped to install some of the others, particularly in places where young families are likely to go and sit, such as Castiglione Memorial Park in the downtown area, DeSantis said.
The school district too played a role in funding the libraries, holding weekly dress down days during the spring, where teachers and faculty could make a donation to dress casually for the day, Halloran said.
Steutzel helped mobilize teachers to check on the libraries weekly, and replenish them with new books from a stockpile of donated books when necessary.
“Everybody grabbed right on to it,” she said. “We said bring your books in, and they’ve been coming in, coming in. We’re encouraged by how well it was used and received.”
In addition to the increased accessibility to books across the city for kids, Brown said she hopes the little libraries will prevent kids from losing their reading progress over the summer. “Having [the] free libraries is great for summer-slide reading,” said Brown, “[we captured] photos of kids reading at the free libraries, so we know that they’re being used.”
The Gloversville school district serves an underprivileged population, where kids often start school behind on vocabulary and word recognition, Halloran explained. He said he is hopeful that this “Talking is Teaching” program will lead to improve literacy rates, specifically in the pre-K and kindergarten age groups.
“Literacy is essential to success in school. It will be years before we see the true fruits of the labor,” he added.