Parents of young children getting ready to start their formal education — or who are seeking a new school for their child, no matter the age — are in an unprecedented position, post pandemic. New reports about the staggering levels of learning loss due to virtual and hybrid learning environments have parents asking new questions about how their child’s school will actually meet their educational needs.
Public schools in Michigan are required to disclose data regarding learning loss among students, says Keith Howell, Director of Preschool-Elementary Instruction with the Grosse Pointe Public School System (GPPSS). It’s a positive thing that schools provide this data to the public, Howell says, but parents should also remember that students are individuals — and schools should be prepared to provide individualized information to parents.
“We dive into your child’s data and offer interventions that make a difference. We explore where students are with current reading or math levels and create activities to enhance their ability to move forward,” Howell explains.
Given GPPSS’s long commitment to foundational literacy skills for all students, it’s not a surprise that pandemic-related learning loss, or “unfinished learning,” as Howell refers to it, wasn’t as dramatic in the district, compared to other Michigan schools and schools across the country. In some cases, student proficiency even increased from 2019-2022.
If you’re a parent in the Grosse Pointe communities or are thinking about moving to Grosse Pointe so your child can attend a district school, you’ll want to know how GPPSS schools and teachers prepare students — especially the youngest students — for academic success.
Early literacy is foundational
Academic excellence has long been a top priority for GPPSS, and that’s why the district has focused on foundational reading and literacy skills for the past two decades, not just in response to unfinished learning from the pandemic.
“We recognize that reading is the foundation of all other content areas and we have a strong emphasis on supporting literacy in our elementary schools,” Howell explains. “Through the development of a literacy network, we are training teachers on good literacy practices and how to support students and provide interventions for students who need them.”
By training teachers to diagnose and address student needs and provide evidence-based strategies in all content areas, the district has committed to giving teachers and students the tools they need — and this helped sustain learning growth and proficiency during the pandemic.
“We have a strong support system in the area of literacy, and that’s why we didn’t see as large of a learning loss as the state or national level,” Howell says.
Literacy coaches support students and teachers
All students qualify for reading support if an early assessment suggests they could benefit, and GPPSS elementary schools use a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), which is a framework for providing individualized instruction and support to each student.
The first MTSS tier is implementing district-wide curriculum and instruction for all students. If a student isn’t responding well to the tier one curriculum, they progress to tier two, which provides everything from tier one plus extra support that might include small-group instruction or time and frequency-intensive interventions. A student who requires more support moves to tier three, which provides everything from tiers one and two plus intensive support from the school’s literacy coach.
“These students work with research-based programs and increase the time and intensity and hone in on specific skills which are monitored over time,” Howell says. “Then they’ll move back up to tier two, then tier one. We have been doing this for a while now, especially in literacy. Students are able to respond and get the support they need.”
Each K-3 student also receives an assessment within the first 30 days of the school year to see if they qualify for an Individual Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP). Students who would benefit from participating will receive intervention programs, including parent support for at-home learning. Teachers also receive professional development and support from literacy coaches to better meet the needs of the students.
Each of the seven GPPSS elementary schools has a highly skilled literacy coach, which is unusual among public schools, Howell says. “I believe our literacy coaches do such an amazing job supporting kids and teachers. This is a shift from a single literacy expert in the building supporting students, to collaboration and professional development for all of our teachers to create literacy experts throughout the district,” he says.
Make the best choice for your child
Early literacy is essential for a child’s educational success because it is foundational to all other content
areas, Howell says, and it helps a student build a love of learning. It makes sense to select a school that has the tools and resources to build early literacy — and that can identify and support students when they need extra help.
At GPPSS, teachers encourage families to connect with them and with the school so they fully understand the mission and commitment to literacy.
“We have literacy coaches to help and support the educational journey and we support every family,” Howell says. “If you have questions about reading or writing, you can reach out to our literacy coaches in every elementary building.”
GPPSS knows that early education is a partnership between the school and the family. Parents can tap into digital content and resources on the GPPSS website to access reading tips and activities, especially for extra summer learning.
And, parents can always seek out the support of a literacy coach to make the best choice for their child’s extra learning efforts.
“Sometimes figuring out these activities can be overwhelming, but parents can reach out and ask for recommendations,” Howell says. “Learning doesn’t happen at the same rate for every child, but having a multi-tiered system of support that allows classroom teachers and literacy coaches results in an individualized approach. And this benefits all kids.”