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Read On Arizona is helping ensure Arizona kids will read proficiently by the third grade. In an attempt to strengthen student literacy in Arizona, Valley of the Sun United Way and the Arizona K12 Center joined forces to aid local teachers. The thriving partnership, which began in 2013, remains stro

Aug 28, 2015

Read On Arizona is helping ensure Arizona kids will read proficiently by the third grade.


In an attempt to strengthen student literacy in Arizona, Valley of the Sun United Way and the Arizona K12 Center joined forces to aid local teachers. The thriving partnership, which began in 2013, remains strong because of scholarships offered to educators that are passionate about student success in the area of reading.
Originally instigated in response to Arizona’s Move on When Reading legislation and the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Read On Arizona was created to form a state literacy plan, developing a continuum of literacy services and support to ensure Arizona children will read proficiently by the third grade.
Brooke Toles-Johnson is the Community Impact Manager for Read On Greater Phoenix through the Valley of the Sun United Way. She said her organization sees great value in trainings offered by the Arizona K12 Center, which was the impetus for a partnership.
“The Arizona K12 Center learning opportunities provide high-quality and relevant literacy and language strategies for those in the K-3 teaching field. The Valley of the Sun United Way believes these will help strengthen the education workforce and develop professional expertise in the practice of teaching children to read,” said Toles-Johnson.
Since 1925, Valley of the Sun United Way has distinctly focused on three main objectives, which are: ensuring children and youth succeed, ending hunger and homelessness, and increasing the financial stability of families and individuals. Further concentrating on the first tenant, the organization offers financial assistance to educators, enabling professional development surrounding literacy.
“The scholarship [program] dedicated to learning opportunities paved the way for the Literacy Learning Cohort offered to interested teachers and coaches in selected school sites. Research demonstrates that the most effective types of professional development include content-based learning, as well as hands- on sessions, and one-on-one coaching or mentoring. The cohort offers a blend of all three to participants in high-quality settings,” Toles-Johnson explained.
In its first year, the cohort was comprised of members from the Balsz and Riverside Elementary School Districts. During the 2014–2015 school year, the group has been comprised of five instructional coaches from Balsz and 13 reading coaches from the Roosevelt School District.
Kathleen Paulsen, a Balsz Elementary School District contributor, is in her second year of the cohort. She believes the commitment is fruitful in many ways.
“As a cohort member, I made it my personal goal to implement the protocols from the Critical Friends training within my school environment. It’s helped create a community of teachers who are learning to be more self-sufficient leaders.”
Currently, Paulsen is the Instructional Coach at David Crockett Elementary School. Since joining the district nine years ago, she’s seen hundreds of kids walk through the schools’ doors with unique circumstances.
“Here at David Crockett Elementary School, we have primarily English Language Learners. They often start out not knowing English and having never been to preschool. Also, we have a homeless population of students from the UMOM shelter that might not have been to school in months—or even years. We try to fill those gaps as quickly as we can,” said Paulsen. “A priority for me is helping teachers learn how to analyze the classroom data and student work. Being able to assess where the student is and how to move him or her forward is crucial. You have to look at each child individually and not the classroom as a whole. Within our cohort time, we talk a lot about the skills needed to do this.”
With the challenges that accompany literacy learning for students, learning opportunities offer resources and a sense of community among peers. Not only are cohort members able to partake in Arizona K12 Center events, they also attend meetings, both face-to-face and virtual. Together, they discuss cross-district successes and challenges with student achievement connected to the implementation of the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards for literacy.
Because of their positive experiences, current participants hope their peers will have similar opportunities in the future.
“At this time, the United Way is reviewing budgets and will determine, by the end of July 2015, the scope and scale of both scholarships and the Language and Literacy Learning Cohort. Teachers and coaches will be selected on a first-come first-served basis among the partner schools in Valley of the Sun United Way’s Read On initiative,” Toles-Johnson explained.

Learn more about Valley of the Sun United Way’s commitment to ensuring kids succeed here.

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