By MARINA WATERS
Washington County Schools might have upped their number of technological devices throughout its K-8 schools, but the district still believes there’s a lot to be said about good old-fashioned books — and they’re proving it through the district’s book rooms.
A book room is found throughout each Washington County K-8 school and houses books and book sets on content areas such as math, science and social studies while keeping each student’s reading level in mind.
“The old fashioned way of educating kids was one size fits all, here’s your basal reader, open to this page and we’re all going to read this story,” Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said.
“These guided reading levels help us be more prescriptive in that we do ongoing assessments, so these groups are fluid — meaning students can learn at their own pace.”
While book rooms were designed to keep students learning about specific content such as the solar system, the weather cycle or fractions, all on a student’s reading level, it is also intended to challenge students.
“It’s a way to really challenge those kids who are sitting in a third grade classroom but are performing at an eighth grade level,” Halliburton said.
“They don’t have to sit and wait for the rest of the class to catch up. They can keep on progressing.”
This progress through reading is something that is also being implemented at all other K-8 schools in the county, but students aren’t the only ones the district is looking to support.
Really, Halliburton said, the rooms are designed to offer resources to teachers in order to better educate students.
“District wide, my goal is this: teaching is pretty tough. And I think it’s my job and the board’s job to make sure we’re supporting teachers in the county as much as possible,” Halliburton said. “Support looks like also making sure they have the necessary resources to be successful.”
That doesn’t mean the funding for these resource rooms has been easy to come by. The book rooms started when one-time funding from the state was planned to make its way to Washington County for the projects, but the funding failed to come through.
Now, with plans to add it to the next budget, schools like Boones Creek Elementary are trying to add materials to their book room whenever they can.
Boones Creek Elementary Principal JW McKinney said his book room, with oval work tables and crates of guided reading kits throughout the room, has progressed thanks to a grant earned by the school’s instructional coach, fundraisers put on by the school and a fund pool from the school’s basic education program funding — which was put towards the project after the teachers voted to do so.
“We tried to pull from any funds to make it happen because we see the need,” McKinney said. “The teachers see the need so they agreed to set aside that pool fund for this.”
The book room isn’t just a room full of books for students, however; it’s also a way to provide resources for teachers who, oftentimes, McKinney said, spend their own money buying materials for their classrooms. McKinney said he would guess that each teacher spends around $500 a year out of their own pocket on educational supplies at his school.
“All of this is for the teachers. Of course it’s student focused, but a book room really is for teachers to come shop, checkout and put it back when they don’t need it so someone else can utilize it,” Halliburton said.
“It really is a more economical way to share resources because you don’t have all these things in individual teachers’ closets. Teachers can still choose to do that and buy their own resources, but we don’t want them to have to do that.”
The Boones Creek Elementary principal said he’s already seen results he feels can be attributed to the book room; McKinney said his fourth grade students went from about 40 percent on grade level to around 60 percent on grade level, according to the schools’ mid-year benchmarks.
“Boones Creek had a pretty low score in reading. And in owning that, our goal has been to really put forth some effort to try to raise that,” McKinney said.
“I’m super proud of our fourth grade. So we hope that carries through to our TNReady tests.”
But not each school in the district has a book room with as many materials as Boones Creek Elementary.
In dreaming of the perfect book room, both McKinney and Halliburton both said if funding were no issue, they would immediately add big books that are ideal for shared reading among a group or class and can enhance young readers especially.
“We’ve got kindergarteners who come to us and can read a whole book. And we’ve also got kindergarteners who don’t know their letters,” Halliburton said. “When students start, the playing field is not level many times in terms of ability. This is really helpful for kids who haven’t been read to a whole lot at home.”
But the room doesn’t just add to a student’s education.
McKinney said he felt book rooms were a way to teach more content without adding more time to the school day.
“Cross curricular is super important because we can’t make any more time. There are no more minutes in the day,”McKinney said.
“The more we’re reading in content, we’re getting double bang for our buck. They’re getting literacy pieces they need to read, plus they’re getting the content pieces for science and social studies.”
Book rooms are also a way to keep education individualized for students rather than a one-size-fits-all system.
The Boones Creek Elementary School principal also said he hopes to implement more individualized education.
“We want to basically get to a point where we are individualizing instruction for every student,” McKinney said, “based on their reading needs.”
In all, the book rooms are designed as an avenue to improve reading and other content scores while providing resources for teachers to progress student achievement.
“We expect our teachers to get excellent results. We keep pushing the envelope for more and more students to keep scoring proficient or advanced,” Halliburton said.
“With that, I think it’s unrealistic to have all these expectations on teachers, when we’re not giving them the resources necessary to be successful. That’s what a book room does, that’s what all the technology we’re using actually does. It assists the teacher in having more resources at their disposal to be successful so that our students are successful.”