7 months ago

i-Ready could help reinvigorate Alabama’s public education system

BOAZ — Boaz City Schools produced Alabama’s current lieutenant governor. And now, thanks to the system’s participation in a cutting-edge program, Boaz could be paving the way for not just the next generation of students in Marshall County, but young Alabamians statewide.

While the Yellowhammer State boasts the nation’s best state-run pre-k program, surging workforce development programs through AIDT and public-private partnerships and world-class universities, it is no secret that Alabama has been desperately needing a renaissance in K-12 public education for years.

That awakening might just be on the horizon. Last week, Yellowhammer News attended the annual community appreciation breakfast at Boaz High School. In attendance were Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, state Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and state Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab), who all got a firsthand look at i-Ready – a program new to the state that might just be one of the missing pieces in Alabama’s public school puzzle.

i-Ready

A program of Curriculum Associates, i-Ready is a virtual assistant of sorts for teachers, providing a toolkit of resources and delivering differentiated instruction. The online, data-driven program functions in two main ways: diagnostic and instructional.

The first aspect of this is assessment based. Through an initial evaluation to see where a student is academically (identifying both their strengths and weaknesses), i-Ready plots a unique learning pathway just for them. This is where the instructional component comes in, as the program provides online lessons and teaching resources designed to fit that individual student’s pathway.

And, just as importantly as the two aspects themselves, the diagnostics and instruction are intertwined. The online program is keeping track of a student’s progress daily, so teachers can adjust in real time to what is working and not working in the classroom.

In a tour of Corley Elementary School, i-Ready can already be seen making a difference firsthand in second- and third-grade classrooms.

One of the biggest takeaways, after speaking with school system and Curriculum Associates leaders, is that i-Ready is custom designed to help teachers, not supplant them.

A Powerpoint presentation delivered by the school system emphasized, “We know and believe that the classroom teacher is at the center of [success]. The teacher is making instructional decisions based on his/her knowledge of the students.”

i-Ready and the constant individualized data it puts in teachers’ hands only increases their ability to help students succeed.

Still, in schools where some students are at or above grade level while others are varying degrees of playing catch up, teachers cannot possibly reach each individual in the best way for their unique situation just by teaching to the group and going over lessons in front of the class as a whole. This is where differentiated instruction and custom pathways are so important.

“We know realistically that kids are at all different places when they start each grade level,” a school administrator explained. “You have some kids that are accelerated learners that have learned a lot of their grade level skills and standards. And you have some that are grades behind. Well, we can’t sacrifice one for the other. And we understand the importance of choice, we understand the importance of flexibility, and that’s something, in a public school, that typically has not always occurred in the past. We have to learn how to meet the needs of individual students in a setting where you teach multiple students.”

Boaz’s implementation

In practice, at least in the classrooms observed, the teachers would split the class into three groups after introducing the lesson of the day to all of them. The groups would rotate between three stations. The group on the i-Ready station would go online and work their pathway. A second group would work a more traditional assignment or project related to the lesson. And the final group would work with the teacher to add another layer or reinforcement level to the lesson; tactile or visual activities are good examples of this.

Another of the points of emphasis of the program is building skills, as opposed to teaching to a standardized test. Curriculum Associates, through i-Ready and Ready (traditional printed math and reading instruction the company also specializes in), stresses high standards. Yet, the curriculum is flexible and uniquely designed not just for the individual students, but for the differing needs and wants of states and localities, too.

Take Boaz City Schools, for example. The school system has major demographic challenges that Curriculum Associates has helped with. From 2014 to 2018, Boaz City Schools’ percentage of Hispanic students went from 1.57 percent to 32.70 percent. Instead of working around challenges and leaving various subsets of special needs students behind, i-Ready carves out roads to success. In this case, this meant not only English as Second Language (ESL) students, but students who are proficient in English conversationally but still struggle with it academically.

Boaz City Schools, which has approximately 70 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, began implementation of i-Ready strictly at the Tier III level (at-risk students) in the 2017-2018 school year. Now, they are in the first full year of a two or three-year scale-up of the program to the core level.

The results have already been off the charts.

Last school year, Boaz City Schools achieved 148 percent in math and 162 percent in reading of its targeted growth on average across all students. These remarkable results spanned from kindergarten to eighth grade, which is especially impressive considering it is harder for students to make up lost ground after their first few years of school.

Take the teachers’ perspectives into account.

While on classroom tours, Ainsworth pulled multiple veteran educators aside, who each raved about i-Ready. His conversations left him to conclude, “[T]he proof’s in the pudding.”

One third grade teacher, who had taught various elementary and middle school grades over 14 years, confidently said the program should be implemented statewide.

“As a teacher, it’s the best thing that I’ve seen,” she told Ainsworth.

How can other school districts benefit?

While Boaz City Schools was able to implement i-Ready through an at-risk student grant from the state, Ainsworth said he would like all public school districts to have the funds to use the program if they see fit — and not just for Tier III.

It might take some work in Montgomery to make this possible, but Boaz City Schools Superintendent Dr. Shannon Stanley is such a believer in the program and what it has already done for her district that she is willing to personally travel to the state capital to share the success story with legislators and executive branch leaders.

Currently, Curriculum Associates is working with 15 districts in Alabama between Ready and i-Ready, with some districts running small-scale trials and others enjoying more widespread implementation. Until the time that all districts have the funding option to utilize the program, applying for at-risk grants and being able to show positive results of trial runs seems to be an advisable move for districts across Alabama.

However, this is still not ideal.

“One of the things that I think is kind of a shame is that y’all have to use [i-Ready] through at-risk funds,” Ainsworth told Stanley and other school district leaders. “Because to me, there’s tremendous value and for not just at-risk students… what I’d like to see y’all do is be able to have the money to do this and then use the at-risk money for just at-risk kids.”

Speaking to Curriculum Associates representatives in attendance, Ainsworth reiterated the thing that impressed him most was what the teachers thought of i-Ready.

“Y’all have a product that the people that use it every day [love it]. To me, the value’s not in what I think, it’s the value that the actual teachers think. They love it,” he said.

“You can’t argue with people that are using it, and the fact that it’s actually changing lives. That’s important,” Ainsworth added.

Scofield, speaking to Yellowhammer News after the school tour, emphasized that he is “proud” of the schools in his district, including the Boaz City Schools system.

“They’re doing the right things to make sure our students are achieving and coming out workforce-ready. Boaz is on the frontline of that, and I’m very proud of this system and very impressed by this product,” Scofield remarked.

He continued, “I would like to see us really focus on trying to move [i-Ready] beyond the city limits of Boaz. I’d like to see this not only all over my district but statewide. Listening to these teachers – when you have 14-, 15-, 20-year teachers tell you that this is the best thing that they’ve seen, it’s had the biggest impact on their students – that’s what we need to listen to.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

State Sen. Figures: ‘I didn’t ask’ to be on ATRIP-II — ‘Very ironic I end up’ on it

Last week when State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) was dismissed by Gov. Kay Ivey from the ATRIP-II committee and was replaced by State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile), it raised a few eyebrows.

The consensus was that Elliott was being punished for his outspoken opposition to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposed I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge, which was in part to be financed by a toll.

During an appearance on this weekend’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television “Capitol Journal,” Figures reacted to her appointment by Ivey. She noted the nature of these appointments and that she also lost an appointment when Lt. Will Ainsworth took her off of the Joint Transportation Committee earlier this year and said it was a result of comments she had made “at the microphone.”

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“He’s not the only one that’s been taken off of a committee,” she said. “It happens all the time. It happens in the House. It happens in the Senate. It goes back and forth, and that is the governor’s prerogative to do such.”

Figures had not taken an outspoken position on the I-10 bridge project but said that she did not think the burden should be put on local residents in Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

“I don’t think it should be the responsibility of the citizens of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to pay for that I-10 bridge,” Figures said. “It is an interstate. I think it should be the state and the federal government that should bear the cost of it. At the same time, if we are to pay for it, let the people decide if that’s what they really want since they say it’s in the very high percentage rates of local citizens using that bridge. It’s a lot to work out. But I’m a consensus builder, and I’m going to work with the governor to try to do that.”

The Mobile County Democrat said she was grateful for the appointment by Ivey, adding that she would bring “diversity” to the ATRIP-II committee.

“I was very humbled and honored when she called and asked me to serve,” she said. “It really was to my surprise that there was not a Democrat nor an African-American legislator on the ATRIP-II committee. Now there’s definitely diversity. Of course, there is an African-American — County Commissioner Tony Cherry from Butler County is on that committee. So, I was very pleased to add that diversity. I want to take to that committee a voice for the voiceless if you will. We have a number of counties in this state that don’t have the resources or revenues to give that skin in the game, if you will, in terms of matching funds. But then, they have priorities, too. And we are supposed to be about protecting the health, safety and welfare of all of our citizens. So that is the voice I want to bring to that committee.”

Host Don Dailey alluded to the “irony” of Figures appointment, particularly given Figures opposed the Rebuild Alabama Act passed earlier this year, which resulted in a hike of the state’s gas tax. She acknowledged the irony, but said she did not actively seek a spot on that committee.

“I stand by that vote,” she said. “I voted against it. I did tell the governor that I would vote if she would expand Medicaid because this state did not expand Medicaid, therefore they left $1.3 billion on the table along with 30,000 jobs. It chose not to expand Medicaid. Had we expanded Medicaid, we would not have needed this gas tax. And to me, this gas tax is a very expensive and regressive tax, which will be on the backs of people who can least afford it.”

“Let me just say this: I didn’t ask to be on this committee,” Figures added. “And it is — it is very ironic I end up on the committee that decides it. But you know, for me — I’m a very spiritual woman of deep faith. God is in control. I was asked to be on it and although I voted against the tax, I want to be that voice for the voiceless.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

5 hours ago

VIDEO: Ivey punishes toll opponents, ongoing impeachment talks, Madison shows the state how to raise taxes and more on Guerrilla Politics …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Should Governor Kay Ivey be punishing toll opponents like State Senator Chris Elliot (R-Daphne) for their disagreements?

— Why not just admit that Democrats are trying to impeach President Donald Trump?

— Why did 70% of voters in Madison say “YES” to a new tax increase?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by State Senator Sam Givhan to talk about road projects and how Alabama Department of Transportation and Governor Ivey move forward after their big defeat.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” where he argues that companies banning their customers from carrying weapons in their stores aren’t really doing anything but chasing good press by placating a mob and their media.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=461031881151175

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

8 hours ago

Itty Bitty Bakers makes cooking fun and informative for Alabama kids

It starts with a special ingredient – in this case, registered dietician and educator Jessica Hamby.

Combine with the children willing to learn and participate. Flavor in a mix of art, crafts, reading and hands-on learning. Then top off with the capable hands of proven instructors and assistants, and you have Itty Bitty Bakers.

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Hamby started Itty Bitty Bakers in 2018 to bring her own love of cooking with healthy and fresh ingredients to children in her neighborhood. The belief was that if the children had a hand in preparing healthy foods, they would be more inclined to try and then enjoy foods that are better for them.

It worked. Hamby, who has a master’s in health education, created a curriculum that reinforces the recipes and helps teach children about where food comes from, how ingredients are used to make a dish and how cooking can be a fun and creative outlet for people of any age.

Itty Bitty Bakers has the recipe for making cooking fun and educational for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

What started as a couple of summer camp classes quickly grew into monthly classes and then multiple classes for students of different ages.

“It really took off,” said Melissa Carden, an instructor with Itty Bitty Bakers. “It seemed to be something that the community really had a need for. There was always a demand.”

Today, the program has two instructors, teaching assistants, a team of youth helpers and even students from the University of Alabama nutrition program who intern during the summer.

At one recent bakers camp, the students picked basil, used it in a recipe, learned about growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables during story time, colored pictures of herbs and even took recipes and basil seeds home with them. The basil was used to make basil-cheddar biscuits, which they got to enjoy during snack time.

Each class and camp teaches children to be comfortable in the kitchen, builds on their understanding of where food comes from and encourages creativity.

“It’s really fascinating how much they enjoy the hands-on – the mixing, the pouring – every child gets to add at least one ingredient to the recipe,” Carden said. “It’s fun to see how capable they are. They’re capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Itty Bitty Bakers offers classes for preschoolers, grade schooler and pre-teens. There are camps during the summer, classes during the school year and special workshops throughout the year. Prices vary and registration is done online. Itty Bitty Bakers will even organize parties.

Itty Bitty Bakers can be found online, on Facebook, on Instagram and Pinterest.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Birmingham’s Alie B. Gorrie puts spotlight on disabled performers in new Amazon series

When Alie B. Gorrie moved to New York in 2015 after graduating from Belmont University, she was not unlike other young performers trying to find their way in the big city.

Armed with a resume that included shows at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company (RMTC), Gorrie taught yoga and worked part-time as a teacher, all the while auditioning for (and getting some) roles at theater companies in the area.

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But look at Gorrie’s resume, and you’ll see something listed that provided some extra challenges. Under “Special Skills,” she notes that she’s “legally blind/visually impaired,” having been diagnosed at an early age with low vision.

“When I moved to New York, casting directors would say, ‘Why is one of your eyes crossed?’,” Gorrie says. “I didn’t expect to hear that after singing a song. … I’ve faced having to learn how to speak about it and articulate what I needed around it very quickly.”

Gorrie is not alone, and her latest project showcases other performers dealing with their own disabilities in the arts world. Gorrie co-hosts and co-produces, with Kallen Blair, “ABLE: a series,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. There are eight 15-minute episodes, each of which focuses on a performer with a disability, including recent Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, who is in a wheelchair.

The series was conceived after Gorrie saw a musical called “Sam’s Room” off-Broadway.

“I‘ve never been so moved by something,” she says of the show about a teen with non-verbal autism. “I had this impulse to buy 10 tickets and invite people I knew to see the show.”

One of those people was Blair, who has a brother with non-verbal autism.

“After the show, she was weeping, and she said that it was the first time she had seen her brother represented so well in a story,” Gorrie says. “That got us started in these inclusion discussions.”

Later, when Gorrie was working in California and Blair in Boston, Blair sent her an email.

“She pitched a documentary series shedding a light on inclusion in theater,” Gorrie recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, sign me up.’”

Each episode features one guest interviewed by Gorrie and Blair. The guests include Evan Ruggiero, a dancer who lost a leg to cancer at age 19; John McGinty, a deaf actor who starred on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God”; and Danny Woodburn, an actor with dwarfism known best for his role on the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The two interviewed Stroker prior to her Tony nomination and win for “Oklahoma!”

“She is the one who is truly paving the way for disabled artists everywhere now,” Gorrie says.

Gorrie and her family created Songs for Sight, an event that raises money for the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fundraiser, which has included performers such as Vince Gill, Sara Evans and Grace Potter, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a free concert at Red Mountain Theatre Company in October.

Gorrie really found her calling at RMTC, where she performed for a number of years. She counts RMTC Executive Director Keith Cromwell among those who helped her realize she could pursue a performing career while dealing with her vision issues.

“It took me a while to find teachers and mentors who knew how to not make too big a deal out of it while also not ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist,” Gorrie says.

Cromwell is one who recognized Gorrie’s talents early on.

“When you meet ‘special,’ it has no age, it’s timeless,” he says of Gorrie, who is now 26. “As I watch her grow into a magnificent adult and amazing artist who is changing the world, I could not feel more privileged to witness her advancing her cause, her art, her center – the truth of who she is.”

That’s really what’s at the core of “ABLE,” too, as artists talk about embracing their disabilities and finding opportunities to shine, even though it’s still an uphill battle to get casting directors to cast disabled actors.

Gorrie and Blair are already planning Season 2 of “ABLE,” looking to focus less on individuals and more on theaters and other groups that are embracing inclusion of disabled performers.

“We want to go to theaters and film sets and do documentary-style episodes going into the places that are inclusion champions,” Gorrie says.

“ABLE: a series” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

Alabama Habitat for Humanity chapter builds 14 homes in 1 week

To say Tonya Torrance is happy would be an understatement.

“It feels great. It’s a feeling that can’t be explained.”

Torrance and her family are one of 14 families who received a new home Thursday as part of this year’s Home Builders Blitz from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The chapter chose to celebrate its 14th anniversary by building 14 homes, a new record according to chapter President and CEO Charles Moore and a task that requires a tremendous amount of organizing and planning.

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“We knew if we followed that plan and stuck to schedule with everybody doing their part, we could complete it on time,” Moore said. “We have hundreds of volunteers helping us, along with skilled tradesmen, professional homebuilders and many more behind the scenes helping with meals and sponsorships. Some of the big corporations in Alabama, such as Wells Fargo and Alabama Power have been with us year after year, as well as the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders — we couldn’t do it without our home builders who volunteer and give us this week of their time and help direct the house that they’re building.”

One of those home builders for this year’s blitz was Danniell Burton, a superintendent and project manager at Taylor Burton Company. Burton grew up helping his dad at Habitat builds, but this was his first year leading a build. He said the experience of building Torrance’s home was awesome.

“It gets stressful throughout the week — tons of subs and your mind is going a bunch of different ways, but to be done with it is awesome,” Burton said. “Seeing the homeowners’ faces walking in and just getting done with it is such a relief.”

Torrance said working with Burton was great.

“He didn’t ask for nothing he wouldn’t do,” Torrance said. “I love him.”

“It really does feel great,” Burton added. “As you make progress every day and seeing their faces is just a great feeling. You work late hours but the drive home at night you realize what you got done for the day and knowing they’re happy is what it’s all about.”

Moore said seeing people come together to help each other is what makes him most proud of the blitz builds.

“There’s no way we could do this without people pitching in to help,” Moore said. “We like to see ourselves as coordinators, as people who bring people together to help make it happen. We recognize that without the volunteers, without the financial support, without all of the folks that make this happen, that this would not happen.”

To learn more about the Home Builders Blitz program from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity, visit habitatbirmingham.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)