Longview News-Journal | February 20, 2017
By: Jimmy Isaac
Longview school leaders hope a new online initiative sparks reading interest for young students across the region.
East Texas Reads, the new program the Longview ISD kicked off Monday, already has inspired the district's students to read at least 10,000 books within two weeks of its unofficial launch, said Carlos Lopez with Myon Personalized Literacy.
Students as young as prekindergarten use tablets or desktop computers to develop their personal collection of online books based on what interests them — in some cases using pictures to simplify the process. It allows them to either read or listen to books whether they're inside or away from the classroom, with books available in English, Spanish and most recently French.
"Each (campus) is spending an extra hour and a half reading for pleasure," Lopez told district trustees recently of the most recent local data, "and the most incredible statistic that I found is that there is an additional 30 percent of reading going on outside of school."
The district doesn't want to restrict it to merely Longview students, with at least 10 other districts by the end of 2018 using civic and business partners to help in marketing and funding, Communications Director Elizabeth Ross said.
Superintendents, curriculum directors and teachers from at least eight area school districts have collaborated with Longview ISD leaders about East Texas Reads. Spring Hill ISD has already signed on, and Ross said other districts including Tyler ISD are close to joining the program.
East Texas Reads will honor school campuses, classrooms and student readers each month and hold Family Reading Nights — the first scheduled March 13 at Taco Cabana, with 20 percent of proceeds that night going to buy tablets, supplies and rewards for high-achieving students. Ross said.
"The possibilities are endless with this program," Ross said. "This is going to be an amazing program not only for Longview but East Texas. This can grow as big as we want it to."
A program based in Bloomington, Minnesota, Myon recommends books to students based on their interests and reading level. The Myon reader program also tracks book use and reading growth over time and can project a student's future reading score based on current reading activities within the system.
"It turns out that in East Texas we have a bit of a transient population," Lopez said.
"What the district has done is given every single one of your students access to a whole library of books," Lopez continued, "so if you can give a kid access to three to five books that are going to make a difference in their lives, can you think about what a difference 6,000 books are going to make in a child's hands?"
Longview school Superintendent James Wilcox said East Texas Reads could have profound effects on the literacy of area students.
"We're easily the highest achieving district in the area, and it bothers me that there's some students who are not getting what they need. This is something that everybody can get and it's an easy way to increase literacy," Wilcox said.
"We're helping the competition, but I think that's what we need to do," he said. "We need to help everybody get better."