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Feb 26, 2003

Literacy Award

The Alexander Literacy Experience, begun by Dr. Arden Post (left), professor of education at Calvin College, has garnered a literacy award for Gloria Tolbert’s fourth-grade class at Alexander Elementary School.

"Bats, Buddies and Ben Carson," an innovative program with an improbable name, couples reading skills and strategies with internet literacy and is the Great Lakes Regional winner of the 2003 International Reading Association (IRA) Presidential Award for Reading and Technology, sponsored by Riverdeep-the Learning Company.

The award recognizes the Alexander Literacy Experience or ALEx, a three-year partnership between Calvin education classes and several Alexander fourth- and fifth-grade classes, and will provide Alexander Elementary with $500 worth of educational software.

ALEx began with a grant from Worldcom through Campus Compact and uses technology to support literacy in an urban elementary classroom. Students from Post's "Reading and Language Arts in the Elementary School" class are paired with reading buddies at Alexander for weekly one-hour sessions.

Post says the program has changed some over the last three years. "At first I was driven by technology," she says. "Now we use technology to enhance literacy, not drive it."

In the program's first year, the reading pairs researched bats on the internet, using web sites pre-selected for them. The bat unit taught Alexander students computer and internet skills while promoting reading. The buddies read a biography of Ben Carson, an African American neurosurgeon, during the program's second year. This year the buddies are picking their own books.

Alexander students respond to their reading and their internet research with writing and drawings. The written responses range from descriptive paragraphs to journal entries to diamonte poems, diamond-shaped poems that teach parts of speech.

"It gives the children a chance to develop multiple talents," Post says.

The Calvin students perform literacy assessments on their buddies at the beginning and end of the semester. They also plan lesson sequences and write both daily reflections on their work and a concluding paper.

Tolbert says the partnership is invaluable.

"The (Calvin) students get to know the Alexander students," she says. "They exchange phone numbers. They get e-mail addresses. They exchange cards."

Wednesdays, Tolbert says, are a highlight of the week.

"On Wednesdays there are not too many absentees," she says. "The students are here because they know their Calvin buddies will be here.”

Post's class has worked with several of the fourth- and fifth-grade classes over the past 2 1/2 years. Thus the recent award recognizes the entire project but benefits Tolbert's class this year, which will receive $500 worth of educational software.

Calvin education professor Steve Timmermans and Calvin director of pre-college programs Rhae-Ann Booker together solicited the Worldcom grant and initiated the partnership between the college and the elementary school. That union also included Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church.

While the Worldcom grant will not be renewed because of that company’s financial difficulties, the program will continue because of its value to all says Timmermans.

"It’s helped a church know how to partner with a neighborhood school," he says. "It helped a neighborhood school meet its goals. And it's helped a professor take a course and make it technology rich and urban-situated."

~written by staff writer Myrna Anderson

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)