From south campus grammar teacher, Tana Schuermann

“A childhood filled with stories that inspire and nurture the heartbeat of a hero within us is one of the simplest ways we can love and prepare our children. By doing so, we help them understand that the call to be a hero is a call to fully live God’s vision for their life. We read in the hope that our children will feel the heartbeat of a hero thrumming within them and look to the heavens and ask, ‘What great thing have I been created to accomplish?’”

– Sarah MacKenzie, The Read-Aloud Family

My earliest memory of literacy is trembling in fear well past my bedtime as I read the Nancy Drew mystery The Secret of the Old Clock while tucked into my Cabbage Patch doll sheets. Undoubtedly, there were many foundational steps that occurred before I reached the “Nancy Drew” stage of literacy development. I’m sure I read The Bernstein Bears in my grandmother’s lap, as I have the well-worn books from her library to prove it. I know I listened to countless Sunday School stories while my teachers read from the Children’s Illustrated Bible. I also had phonics instruction because, as a child of the 80s, I benefitted from this critical tool of reading pedagogy. But the memory that sticks out is the one that I associate with the emotion it caused me to feel. As Sarah MacKenzie points out, readers connect with the heroes of literature, and my connection with Nancy Drew sparks vivid memories, even after all these years.

So how does a child learn to read and what does reading instruction look like at The Academy? From the earliest age, students are filled with pride as they connect letters and sounds through our comprehensive Spell to Write and Read curriculum. My own son recalls thinking his classmates were telling him to be quiet and then realizing they were just practicing the phonogram /sh/. As children are beginning to put sounds together and read their first words, their Pre-K teachers and parents are fueling their love of reading with amazing books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear. Our veteran kindergarten teachers, Gaylee Koehler at north and Amanda Deshotels at south, recently estimated that they read approximately 200 books to their kindergarteners each school year. They are filling their students’ minds and hearts with the wonder of literature and the desire to become readers.

Beginning in kindergarten, teachers at The Academy administer the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) and use this tool to individualize students’ reading instruction while also giving parents useful feedback on their child’s reading development. Teachers in the early grammar years place students in reading groups where they can practice skills like fluency, pacing, accuracy, expression, and comprehension. These groups meet children’s individual needs by matching them with books that are just the right reading level and introducing various genres like fables, fiction, and non-fiction. Teachers instruct with specific skills and strategies, helping students learn everything from breaking new words into syllables, to applying prior knowledge to new books.

As young readers gain independence, first graders connect to characters and learn about friendship in The Adventures of Frog and Toad and many of them feel the satisfaction of reading a chapter book for the first time. Throughout the years, students meet many more heroes of literature, like Henry in The Boxcar Children, whose hard work and resourcefulness provide for his siblings, and Robin in A Door in the Wall, whose perseverance gets him through the challenges of learning to walk again after a childhood disease.

The Academy’s philosophy of reading instruction says, “Reading is the pathway to learning. It is the initial milestone or academic achievement that all other learning is built upon.” As a result, The Academy equips teachers and parents with amazing curriculum and programs to lay the foundation for reading development. Each year the heroes of our books grow in age and maturity, and each year we get a front row seat in watching our students grow as readers.