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Nathan Hale (IL) Elementary School

/Academy Interventions

Download PDF version of this articleAs a special education teacher at Nathan Hale Elementary in Lansing, Illinois, Deb Guzak takes special pride in keeping up with her students’ progress over the years. In one such instance, a former special education student dropped by her room to share a special accomplishment.

The school’s principal had given him a certificate of achievement for his success using the Academy of READING and Academy of MATH software, which really established itself in the second year of use at the school. The student was proud to show off his award and share his accomplishment with an inspiring teacher.

“As a special education teacher, I like that (the Academy program) it’s multi-modal. As a teacher, I like that it’s effective.”
Deb Guzak, Special Education Teacher

The Academy of MATH and award-winning Academy of READING software help students build foundational skills for elementary, middle and high schools – as well as English Language Learners, Title 1 and special education students. The software’s dynamic intervention engine adapts training to each student’s needs, accelerating where mastery is demonstrated and providing more practice and review when students are struggling.

In addition to using the programs during the school day, the Academy software is a major component in the PRIDE Plus after school program, which meets two days a week after the final bell rings. Guzak is also assistant director of that program.

In the 2010-11 school year, the roster included 15 students from each of the 3rd and 4th grades. Those students were targeted for extra assistance based on school-wide pre-testing at the beginning of the year.

Students get a quick snack break after school and then they spend time on homework and in the computer lab – practicing math and reading skills using the software. The students work at their own pace, with half-hour sessions in both Academy of READING and Academy of MATH – and help from teachers and staff when they need it.

Though the after school program targets students who meet certain testing criteria, including scoring “below basic” in Autoskill, it’s so popular that kids and parents are clamoring to find out how they can get involved.

“A lot of times there’s a stigma with being in the after school program,” Guzak said. “But we have more kids saying, ‘How come I don’t get to be in PRIDE Plus?’ We have a lot of parents calling, too.”

With snacks, help from teachers and aides, and a chance to excel in the classroom, it’s easy to see why kids get excited about being a part of this group. As a result of improvements made through the after school program and work with Autoskill, many students who participated during the year were so successful that they grew out of the program. When those kids ask about their status, Guzak has words of reassurance for them.

“If you’re not back, that means you are doing the right thing, because you’re applying what you knew,” she says.

She has presented the program success to her school board, and is pleased that the software makes it easy to track students’ progress throughout the year, or as they progress over multiple years.

“Nowadays everything is so data driven,” Guzak says of her school board presentation. “There wasn’t a lot of extra work on our part to pull together the reports.”

The data certainly bears out the stories of success at Nathan Hale Elementary. For the 2010-11 school year, 3rd graders gained an average of 2.0 grade levels in reading and 2.02 grade levels in math. 4th grade students also saw improvements, gaining 2.13 grades in reading and 0.96 in math.

Though the 4th grade math scores were not as high as some of the other gains, Guzak remains encouraged, noting that some students started out below their grade level and that the math software helps them expand on their classroom knowledge.

“Some of the math, especially on the 4th grade, they may not have moved as many grade levels,” she says. “But that’s because the math gets into areas they haven’t explored in class yet.”

To reward students for all their hard work, the PRIDE Plus team organized a field trip to see a play at the end of the school year. Parents, who arrived at school before their children were back from the field trip, got a big surprise.

Their students’ Auto Skill reports were waiting for them, along with a parent survey about the PRIDE Plus program. When students returned, everyone celebrated with cookies and parents got to pat their kids on the back for a job well done.

“We felt that was a very effective way to handle the reports, rather than just sending them home,” Guzak says. “Then we also got to see and share with the families. If they had questions, they could come to us.”

Since adding Academy of READING and Academy of MATH to the PRIDE Plus program two years ago, Nathan Hale Elementary has been pleased with the progress students are making and their ability to help them get the most out of the software.

“I think it’s teacher friendly, but you definitely have to have the training,” Guzak says. “We made sure everybody went in and logged in as a student. It was neat, because you could tell the kids, ‘You know what? I had trouble with some of the sounds too.’ They think that’s fantastic, when a teacher has to work through the program.”

After two years, Guzak is impressed with the ease with which her school was able to integrate Autoskill into their after school program. She is looking forward to tracking students’ progress as they find success in the classroom. When they’re ready to move on, she knows that more students will get to benefit from this multi-modal, hands on educational experience.

“As a special education teacher, I like that (the Academy program) it’s multi-modal,” Guzak said. “As a teacher, I like that it’s effective.”