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On-line learning program cuts affect some schools more than others

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image Joan Storey, media specialist at Doris Ross Reddick Elementary School in Wimauma, talks with local DJ Tito. Penny Fletcher Photo

Students attended a bitter-sweet celebration of their reading goals.

By PENNY FLETCHER

WIMAUMA — Students attended a bitter-sweet celebration of their reading goals May 31 dancing to the music of local DJ Tito who often provides entertainment for special events at Doris Ross Reddick Elementary School in Wimauma.

The disco-type dance was complete with flashing colored lights in a darkened room and both students and teachers demonstrating their best moves.

The event, which was held between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. with students entering and leaving, being grouped according to grade, was part of a reward for those students who had met their reading goals while participating in the Renaissance Learning Program for reading which is found on line at http://www.renlearn.com.

I called the celebration bitter-sweet because this is the last year the Hillsborough County School District will ante up the whole cost of the program and schools just found that out about 10 days ago, according to Reddick’s Media Specialist Joan Storey.

“Some of the more affluent schools can just go to their PTAs and ask for money, but we have 96-percent of our students qualifying for free lunch. Our parents and PTA just don’t have that kind of money.”

“That kind of money,” it seems, is approximately $3.70 per student per year, which multiplied by 192,000 which is the approximate number of students in the system according to school spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, comes to a savings of about $710,400 — or well over half a million.

“Schools had always paid for Accelerated Reader books and tests until 2008 when tests became web-based,” said Cobbe. “For the upcoming school year, the district is continuing to pay the fee for use of Renaissance Place servers and the data integration (access to the tests). The schools only have to pay for the individual licenses.”

The district allocated $200,000 for the program for 2011-2012, she continued, but because of continued state cuts in the school’s comprehensive reading funding the board had to choose between paying for these licenses for another year and hiring reading coaches.

“The need for Renaissance Place also was affected by the community collaboratively purchasing myOn Reader. That is the partnership between the district, the Children’s Board, and the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative. myOn is completely digital and also quizzes students after each book,” Cobbe said.

At Reddick, Storey says about 600 students use the Renaissance program and needs about  $22,000 to continue it.

“Using the Renaissance program is a choice for each student,” Storey explained. “No kindergartners use it, and about 50 percent of grades 1-5. That’s because some students like to take the online tests about the books to earn points, and others don’t like to take tests.”

The tests are, however, described as fun.

The points they earn can be used in a school store Storey and others keep stocked with candy, gum and other small rewards and also towards special events like the dance with DJ Tito.

“We’ve tapped out grants. Sun City Center has been very generous, the Community Foundation, the Interfaith Council. We hold some fundraisers, but other schools in more affluent areas can just go to their parents and PTA and get money. We can’t.”

So far this year the rewards program has included a “bouncy house,” a Wacky Relay Day, and an Ice Cream Sundae Party. DJ Tito was the last planned event as the school year ends June 8.

J Thomas Roth, principal, says donated books would be as helpful as donated money.

One of the things he sees the school needs most is Spanish translations of well-known characters that very young children will recognize.

“Some of them can barely read in their native language, are learning English and would recognize — let’s say Marmaduke — and it would get their interest. That is what the program is intended to do, make students lovers of books for life.”

Reading for pleasure is the ultimate goal but right now Storey is more down-to-earth about it.

“We just want to get them to read. Any reading will help because it will get them involved with stories.”

She would like to see more of the Hispanic students reading in English, but they have to want to read first.

In the beginning of the year, students and teachers make individual goals for each person which are adjusted and added to along the way. If the student makes his or her goal, they are rewarded. Then they make another goal.

Visiting the Renaissance Learning site’s reading portion is helpful for those who might want to become involved.

The school’s Media Center will be the site for summer school, and Storey will be available most of the summer. To find out more, or to help out, interested persons may call her at (813) 634-0809, Ext. 228 or e-mail her at Joan.Storey@sdhc.k12.fl.us.

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