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‘Bookworms’ creates elementary word lovers

New curriculum gets high marks

Kent City — At a recent parent conference, Kent City Elementary teacher Morgan Everingham was surprised to find out that one of her third-graders was writing stories about fairies and giants in her free time at home. 

“She was using the word ‘ghastly’ to describe the giants in her story,” Everingham said. “(Ghastly) is one of the fun words we learned when reading Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’ in class.” 

Kindergarten teacher Angela Sabin told a similar story: two of her young students, inspired by the poetry they’d been reading together in the classroom, asked parents to help them write their own verses at home. 

Students ditching screen time at home to write poetry and short stories unprompted is how Kent City staff know they’re doing something right in their new approach to teaching reading and writing at school. 

Teachers are using the school’s new English Language Arts curriculum, Bookworms, this year after a multi-year implementation process, helping them inspire K-5 students to become true word lovers. 

Kayla Berli enjoys reading exercises with her son, Daniel, at Kent City’s Family Literacy night

It serves the largely rural population including a significant number of English language learners at the K-5 school, said head literacy coach Kathy Arlen. In Bookworms, they found a free, evidence-based system with explicit skill-based instruction in phonics, sentence composition, vocabulary and oral reading that provides on-ramps for all students, regardless of fluency. 

“The kids are just so interested in the texts,” Principal Pam Thomas said as she recounted a time when she walked into a classroom and heard students groaning when they were instructed to stop reading and move on to a different activity for the day. 

Arlen said teachers also are impressed. “I’ve heard some teachers say, ‘I love teaching writing now. It’s my favorite part of the day.’” 

Literacy Night Introduces Bookworms to Parents

On a warm evening in late October, families enjoyed tacos and popcorn before heading to classrooms where they would learn more about KCE’s new approach to reading and writing. 

In one classroom, parents of fourth- and fifth-graders worked on choral reading, aka group read-alouds, with their kids. In a kindergarten classroom, caregivers watched as a teacher read a text about the universe in a way that kept students’ attention well beyond what they might expect for that age group. 

‘What we value here at Kent City is not giving a 12-question test every week; we value conversations with our kids. Are they excited? Do they want to read?’

— Morgan Everingham, third-grade teacher

Kayla Berli went to a literacy session with her first-grader, Daniel. As they practiced echo reading, she was impressed by the kind of words he was exposed to in the text. 

“I think it’s really interesting how they pick out certain vocabulary that might be harder, and repeat it in the story so they retain the information,” she said.   

Everingham, the third-grade teacher who piloted Bookworms during the 2021-22 school year, said it’s important for parents to know how the new curriculum works so they can support their children at home.  

“The way we learn now is very different from when these parents went to school,” she said. 

Students and caregivers practice choral reading at Kent City’s Family Literacy Night

Bookworms: So Much More Than Better Test Scores

If she could look into the future, Everingham would say that Bookworms will “absolutely” improve standardized test performance at KCE. But she was also quick to say that the curriculum’s approach isn’t just about grades. 

“What we value here at Kent City is not giving a 12-question test every week; we value conversations with our kids. Are they excited? Do they want to read?”

That day, a small group of Everingham’s third-grade students sat together working on a particularly fun assignment. Using a flip book called “Who Wins: 100 Historical Figures Go Head to Head,” their task was to read about two historical figures — in this case, Josephine Baker and Nicola Tesla — and decide who would win an “epic” pranking battle. 

Each student then wrote a constructive response for who they thought would win: a professional performer who would be able to keep a straight face when pulling off a prank, or a billionaire inventor full of creative ideas? 

In the end, it was tied, said Everingham, but one thing was certain: her students were completely enraptured by the exercise. 

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Allison Poosawtsee
Allison Poosawtsee
Allison Poosawtsee is a reporter covering Rockford Public Schools and Kent City Community Schools. She has spent 15+ years working and writing in the education context, first for her alma mater, Calvin University, and then for various businesses and nonprofit organizations in the Grand Rapids area. As a student journalist, she served as editor-in-chief of Calvin’s student newspaper where she garnered several Michigan Collegiate Press Association awards for her work. Allison is a proud parent of two Grand Rapids Public Schools scholars and a passionate advocate for the value of public education.


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