Shelby Dennis: May 9Teachers Who Care Winner.
When Explore Elementary opened in 2006, only 30 percent of the students (K-6) were proficient in reading.
As the literacy teacher, Shelby Dennis was determined to turn things around.
Every week, she works with a handful of children for an hour at a time. She patiently works with the students as they read out loud, making sure they grasp a word's pronunciation and meaning. They also work on spelling. Dennis monitors the progress and shows the students how they're doing every two weeks.
With Dennis' attention to the children, the proficiency rate at Explore Elementary bounced up to 51 percent in 2010.
"With these substantial improvements, Explore now has one of the highest growth rates in the area for reading," School Director Kevin King said. "Shelby Dennis has been an integral part of this success. Specifically, she has assisted students in overcoming major reading gaps, and her schoolwide efforts have created a top-of-the-line intervention system. "
Dennis has also excited the kids. Inside their notebooks, there are graphs that show the progress they're making in terms of how many words they can recognize and spell. In yellow highlighter, a line shows a year-end goal. By March, some of the children had already met their goal. The others are close behind.
The literacy students are beyond excited at how much they've mastered. They have a self-confidence they never really knew before.
"I think it is just so exciting to see the light bulb go on in our struggling readers when they become proficient readers," Dennis said. "We've seen kids who are three or four grade levels behind. With intense intervention, they make those gains. We have provided an extra hour on top of what they're getting in the classroom. It takes two to two and a half years to get to grade level, but all the kids get there."
Next year, Dennis is going to expand the literacy program to get families more engaged in reading. The first step will be to encourage parents to read every night at home. It's an activity that is often lost with parents at Explore.
"We would ask how many books the kids had at home. Many of them would say, 'one or two.' That was kind of an impetus for us to get more books in their hands and have them reading at home," Dennis said.
Explore Elementary did not have the funds for a library so Dennis took it upon herself to create one. Dennis wrote grants, held bake sales and asked friends to hold book drives. There are now more than 1,000 titles on the shelves of the library, which is in the corner of her classroom.
"The library is mostly student run," Dennis said. "They come in and check out the books on their own and so they're responsible for bringing it back. The students are the ones who run the library now."
Does she get tough on kids who don't return their books on time? No way.
"If they don't' get them back on time, it's ok. I feel if it ends up in their house, it's a good thing," Dennis said.
A teacher from the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Art wrote a nomination letter for Dennis.
Sara Severance praised Dennis: "I work as a middle school teacher at the school that her students feed into upon completion of the sixth grade. As students transition from working with Mrs. Dennis in elementary school to our seventh grade classrooms, I see them applying reading and writing strategies they learned while working with Mrs. Dennis. She teaches with a calm, confident presence, and the students immediately feel comfortable and safe in her classroom. She takes an interest in her students by asking them questions about their interests and builds a relationship that lasts beyond their lessons."
Dennis, like our other 9Teachers Who Care Winners, is humble. She credits her ability to help students on the administration and fellow teachers at Explore.
When her students go back to their homerooms and have progress to report, the support is there.
"The other kids and teachers root on the kids who are improving. When they go back to their classrooms, my students get so excited by their progress that they're encouraged to keep working hard," Dennis said. "They know that we're dedicated. Reading is a lifelong skill. If they can have their reading level at grade level, they can go on. If it's applications for jobs, if it's reading recipes, job science, anything... it's a skill that I think is most important."
Because of all of the interest in books at the school library, donations are always welcome.
If you want to help out with any used books, contact Explore Elementary at 303-853-1310.
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