VALDOSTA -- An early intervention, short-term tutoring program for the lowest-achieving first graders may soon undergo local implementation.

Members of the Valdosta Board of Education recently reopened discussions concerning the funding of Reading Recovery. Developed by Marie Clay, a New Zealand child psychologist, this program serves students who are not catching on to the complex set of concepts that make reading and writing possible.

"We looked at this about four or five years ago," said Superintendent Sam Allen. "But it was too costly. Now, we're looking again."

Friday, principals from the Valdosta City School System's four K-3 schools and other system personnel traveled to Tifton for an overview of Reading Recovery. There they met the Tift County School System's team of specialists.

Dr. Joanna Bridges, the Valdosta City School System's director of K-3 schools, stressed the importance of reading to the overall learning process.

"We have a really good reading program in our school system," she said. "But this is a piece I feel we are really missing."

Monday night, Becky Powell, Tift County's Reading Recovery teacher leader, attended the Valdosta Board of Education meeting, sharing the ins and outs of the program. Implemented in 1997, Reading Recovery is working in the Tift County School System.

Powell said Reading Recovery reaches those students, who, under normal circumstances, are simply unable to learn the information. And, she said, it happens in 20 weeks or less through fast-paced, one-on-one intensive instruction half an hour each day.

"We take our bottom 20-30 percent and bring them to the average of the class," she added. "We are constantly bringing the bottom to the middle. You don't fail at Reading Recovery."

Warren Lee, District 3 and board vice chairman, said the key to Reading Recovery is discovering that every child has the potential to learn. He said such a program may keep students from being pushed to the side and defined as unteachable.

"We have proven that these student can learn," Powell said. "They just may do so a little more slowly. The very first day they walk out readers. That does something to their self-esteem. It changes them."

The first year of implementation, the Tift County School System watched their lowest-achieving first-graders go from being barely able to hold a book to reading at a second-grade level. Powell said this evidence proves Reading Recovery works.

"I don't think there is a single board member sitting here who does not want to see this program implemented in our school system," said Jeff Sikes, at-large.

Dr. Bill Cason, interim finance director for the Valdosta City School System, said he is already working on a tentative budget for Reading Recovery. He estimated it will cost the system about $95,000 the first year.

According to a review conducted by the Education Commission of the States, Reading Recovery is based on the philosophy of accelerated learning and is designed to help students make faster than average progress so they can catch up with peers on reading achievement. The key components of Reading Recovery include short-term intervention, one-on-one tutoring sessions for 30 minutes daily and routine activities like reading familiar stories.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, call (229) 244-3400, ext. 255.

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