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By Billy Rudolph

We are two months into a new school year on the heels of a pandemic that caused nationwide learning loss, but the program that Galveston ISD has in place in elementary school is already showing promise. REACH (Recover-Engage-Accelerate-Commit-Hope) was implemented district wide this year in kindergarten through fourth grade.

“We are tasked with closing the gaps and mitigating learning loss. The idea behind this plan is to accelerate learning,” states GISD Executive Director of Elementary School Dr. Jeffrey Post. “Some students are more than one year behind so growing them one year is not enough. With a model like this you aim to not just grow the children, but to accelerate the learning so they can increase more than just one year’s worth of growth, and hopefully catch up.”

The model, created by the elementary school principals, includes identifying the students with the most need and placing them in a class capped at 15 students. In addition to that, the district has hired content specialists that are grade level specific and get together in small groups of only three or four students at a time.

“I think it’s a good choice to target small group instruction in addition to the smaller class size, '' continues Post. “Both are supported by research that they improve student learning outcomes.”

At Parker Elementary School, they are seeing the progress already being made in just the first part of the fall semester.

“This is only the beginning and it already looks positive,” notes Parker Elementary School Principal Liz Murphy. “We are seeing early success out of it. The board of trustees dedicated money toward this program and soon we’ll be able to show them what they are getting out of it.”

“It’s all about the targeting of learning,” explains Post. “When you catch the little things it can make all the difference. That’s what small groups do.”

“I’m able to see exactly when a student is missing something and we can help correct it immediately,” says Fourth-Grade Content Specialist Katie Assad. “I couldn’t do this as efficiently in a classroom of 24 students as opposed to the five students in my small group.”

“There are no distractions, the rooms are quiet and make it easier to focus,” adds Second-Grade Content Specialist Stacey Teer. “We have a strategic everyday routine and we’re seeing progress already.”

“It’s been a smooth transition because we hired experienced teachers that have been in a classroom,'' points out Assistant Principal Melinda Kershaw. “They have the expertise coming in.”

The REACH program is earmarked for two years and the progress will be systematically monitored and assessed so the district will know what's working in those two years and be able to plan accordingly after that.

“Progress monitoring is the key,” emphasizes Post.  “We’re going to look at multiple points of data for both reading and math.”

“We’ve never had this ability to identify kids in kindergarten and first grade because STAAR testing begins at third grade,” explains Murphy. “I think this plan will get them up to grade level quicker. It’s getting in there early and addressing the gaps early.”

“The principals will look at the data collected by the content specialists and from the teachers in the REACH classes and all classes across the campus,” explains Post. “We want to look at multiple data points to determine what is working. We’re seeing positive growth already and time will tell in the long run.”