WEST MILTON — Milton-Union Village Exempted Village School District is part of a brand-new Reading Expands All Children’s Horizons (R.E.A.C.H.) initiative that just received $2.1 million in state funding. The funding was approved on Monday, July 28, by the State Controlling Board at the request of Ohio Department of Education. It released grant monies that were previously appropriated by the legislature as part of the Straight A Fund. The Straight A Fund was created through the 2013 state biennial budget to encourage efficiency and innovation in education.
The funding goes to a consortium of Milton-Union, Franklin Monroe Local and Piqua City School Districts. Milton-Union Superintendent Dr. Ginny Rammel said the district had heard Piqua was interested in doing a similar reading enrichment program, and also wanted to reach out to its neighbor Franklin-Monroe.
“We knew we stood a better chance (to receive the funds) by working as a consortium,” Rammel said, emphasizing that the bigger benefit is that “you learn so much from other people by working together and collaborating.”
Based off of programs in Houston, Texas, and Mooresville, N.C., R.E.A.C.H. is a way to use technology and multi-media to help children in kindergarten and first grade develop their reading skills. It is also meant to engage parents as “at-home learning partners,” according to a presentation Rammel recently gave to Milton-Union teachers.
“The ultimate purpose is to help all kids learn to read,” Rammel said.
The initiative does so by developing “bytes” - videos that are meant to help kids practice reading and have fun at the same time. To make the videos, a “design team” of two reading specialists from each district will combine forces with Ohio State University’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy and Public Media Connect/Think TV (PBS). The goal is to have 18 videos per grade level, 36 total, along with six parent training videos.
The bytes will have three major components: an introductory video meant to hook the reader, instructional content, and multi-leveled activities and games to extend the lesson.
The bytes are stored on a laptop that stays with the student. The student can take the laptop home and engage with the videos with their parents.
“We want our parents involved as much as possible,” Rammel said.
In the Milton-Union presentation, Rammel noted the business theory of “disruptive innovation.” This means a change in an industry that allows a new group of people (“population of consumers”) access to a product or service that was originally only available to someone with a lot of money or skill. Like how cell phones, when they first came out, were only available to those in a high income bracket. Now, cell phones are a common item for the general population.
With a one-to-one laptop availability through R.E.A.C.H., any student would have access to the same bytes and assistance as any of their other classmates. Rammel also noted that ultimately the videos will go onto a website for other schools and children to access as well.
The design team is starting video development this month. The goal is to have the videos completed, the R.E.A.C.H. website up and running, and the laptops purchased by the end of December. That way, at the start of 2015, the team can start training school staff on the bytes and computers and selected teachers can pilot the program in the second semester.
Wright State University’s Center for Evaluation Research is on board to begin data analytics and summative evaluation for the initiative once laptops are in the hands of the students.
Initially, R.E.A.C.H. will be available to just a few classrooms in each school. The goal is to launch the program in all classrooms in all three districts for the 2015-2016 school year.
From now through 2020, the R.E.A.C.H. coordinators plan to hold four consortium team meetings and four school team meetings a year, along with benchmark tests administered three times annually.
There is also discussion of R.E.A.C.H. extending beyond just the three school districts. Rammel noted the state superintendent has already expressed interest in using the program, if successful, in other districts. This area’s State Representative Richard Adams is on that same line of thinking as well.
“The project procedure and the results will be useful for other school districts to emulate. The State of Ohio, the three school districts and the two state universities working together in this endeavor represents an excellent investment by Ohio tax payers,” Adams said.
For more information, call the Milton-Union Board Office at 937-884-7910.
Reach editor Joyell Nevins at 937-552-2205 or on Twitter @WRHLocalNews.