February 1, 2016

Through hard work and an ongoing partnership with the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI), the prekindergarten program at Nixon-Smiley Elementary School has posted dramatic gains in literacy.

A comparison of the numbers from the beginning of the 2014–2015 school year to the beginning of the 2015–2016 school year speaks for itself—on the CLI Engage assessment, the percentage of prekindergarten students deemed as making “acceptable progress” improved in several areas:

  • From 27% in 2014 to 53% in 2015 in letter knowledge
  • From 1% to 40% in vocabulary
  • From 47% in to 73% in phonological awareness

“It has been a journey,” said Shea Sultemeier, the prekindergarten instructional coach for the rural district 50 miles southeast of San Antonio. “Since the inception of TLI, several steps clearly impacted the positive growth of our prekindergarten students.”

Sultemeier went on to detail initiatives during the 4-year partnership, highlighting the work of Family Literacy Liaisons Thelma Deleon and Vanesa Deleon, a new position funded through TLI. Thelma Deleon was the school’s first liaison, and Vanesa Deleon joined her in the 2015–2016 school year. The family literacy liaisons visit homes and build literacy by reading with very young children before they are old enough for school, encouraging environmental print, informing parents about the importance of talking to babies and toddlers, and using technology to support English language development. As word has spread, more parents have contacted the liaisons for their input and support. Early in the process, Thelma Deleon formed a parent group that remains in place today. And this school year, Vanesa Deleon facilitated the Read and Rise parent course, which will result in a group of parent leaders to carry on building literacy in the home.

“The success of our 3- and 4-year-old programs is directly related to having family liaisons who build literacy in the home and involve the entire family in the process,” Sultemeier said. “The data show that the strong literacy foundation for families that is established in our district creates students who are more developmentally prepared to enter the elementary grades.”

Back in the school, the work has evolved over the 4 years of the partnership with TLI—work that continues today. In the first year, the 3- and 4-year-old programs determined what scientifically based curriculum to use, prekindergarten teachers collaborated with elementary teachers to build classroom management systems and procedures for vertical consistency, and an early childhood specialist observed and coached teachers to establish processes and goals. In subsequent years, Nixon-Smiley created a schedule for benchmarking and data analysis at the beginning, middle, and end of the year; continued to work with the early childhood specialist; established explicit lesson plan expectations based on prekindergarten guidelines; integrated writing into all centers; and partnered with the Ready Rosie early childhood engagement online program.

“The amazing thing to see is that when resources are introduced into [this] community, the payback happens,” Sultemeier said. “Investing in the young before school is crucial to the development of students’ and parents’ literacy. The evidence has been the impact the program has had on the language development of our prekindergarten students. The data show that the people and systems that have been put into place over the course of the TLI [partnership] have increased the success of our early childhood program.”

TLI, part of the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, works across the state to ensure that every child is prepared for the literacy demands of college and a career by high school graduation. For more information, visit the TLI project webpage.