In 32 years of teaching, Gwen Prescott has seen a lot of programs come and go, and she says the reading program at Bungalow Road Elementary School is the best she has seen.
"If they were to implement this program in all of Richmond County's schools, our test scores would soar," she said Tuesday morning during a break in the classroom action.
It has paid off for Bungalow Road Elementary; the school's test scores have increased steadily since 1999.
Every morning for two hours, Mrs. Prescott and the other teachers at Bungalow Road lead their pupils in reading, comprehension and phonics exercises.
Called "Direct Instruction," the program identifies the reading levels of every kindergarten and elementary pupil in the school and places them at low, medium and high reading levels.
The program is the same for kindergarten pupils as it is for those in the first through fifth grades. Teachers say the familiarity of the lesson plans and the structure helps the pupils as they progress from grade to grade.
Mrs. Prescott's class is split into three groups of about five children each. While she sits and works through a reading program with one group, the other two groups read silently at their tables and desks.
"Let's start on the first word, column B. Put your finger under the first word," she says to the pupils. "First word! What word? Pitcher!" she says loudly to the group.
"Pitcher!" the children say in unison. Each child then repeats the word to Mrs. Prescott until every pupil has read and spoken the word twice.
"First word! What word?" Mrs. Prescott begins again. "Catcher!"
The pupils repeat the exercise.
The principal, P.K. Baker, says the small groups, the quick pace and the rhythm of the lesson plan, along with the combination of phonics, pronunciation and repetition, force the children with attention disorders to focus and keep the children with behavioral problems in line. The scripted lesson plans hold the teachers accountable, she said.
"This program works," Mrs. Baker said. "The kids are reading at or above grade level. There are no discipline problems. It would make mediocre teachers better teachers, but, of course, we have great teachers here."
Another component of the program is the help the teachers receive from private instructors who come to the classrooms once a month and instruct on how to teach the program to the pupils.
The program, which costs about $68,000 a year to administer and implement, is now being paid for through a three-year state grant. Mrs. Baker says it's worth every penny.
"Just look at the results," she said.
In September, Mrs. Prescott's pupils took Basic Learning Tests. The results showed six of the 14 pupils scored 70 or higher (out of a possible 100). In May, all 14 pupils scored 70 or higher and 11 pupils scored a 79 or higher.
As a whole, Bungalow Road's Iowa Test of Basic Skills reading vocabulary scores have increased at a higher rate than the rest of the county and the state in the past two years.
Similar strides have been made in ITBS language arts scores and reading comprehension scores. Those improvements are even more exciting for school officials because 25 percent of the pupil population are in some type of special education program and about 98 percent are on free or reduced lunch plans.
Eight-year-old Mikell Tatman, a pupil in Mrs. Prescott's class, said he likes the program because it has helped him enjoy reading.
"And I learned new words," he said. "Like speedometer."
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.