One of the most important jobs in school today is teaching and learning literacy, according to USD 457 Superintendent Dr. Steve Karlin.

And one of the ways the district is doing that is through the Kansas Reading Roadmap program.

On Wednesday, Karlin, district officials and Andrew Hysell, executive director for KRR, spoke about the program during the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Clarion Inn.

The district launched its KRR program last summer for struggling students, who qualified based on scores on the AIMS test, which is a reading assessment test.

Now, KRR is an after-school program offered at Abe Hubert, Buffalo Jones, Florence Wilson, Gertrude Walker and Victor Ornelas elementary schools that provides additional reading practice for students in their specific areas of deficiency. The program is aligned with the district’s instructional curriculum so tutors know exactly how to target the additional instruction and practice time for the students’ success.

“It turns these after-school programs into these really effective educational interventions,” Hysell said.

Leigh Ann Roderick, director of elementary education for USD 457, said the district initially was given the opportunity to have three site schools for KRR. But Hysell and the KRR staff were “graciously accommodating,” she said, and funded all five schools in the district that were interested in the program.

{span}According to past school board documents, recipients and amounts of the grants distributed to participating district schools are as follows: Abe Hubert Elementary School, $137,390; Gertrude Walker Elementary School, $141,950; Buffalo Jones Elementary School, $146,135, Victor Ornelas Elementary School, $141,950; and Florence Wilson Elementary School, $137,390.{/span}

Hysell said the program is more prevalent in the eastern part of the state, but is growing in the western part, adding that it has a rural focus model.

“Some people forget that rural areas face the same kind of issues that urban ones do — high poverty levels, substantial ELL (English Language Learners) populations, and the fact they are dealing with a lot of struggling readers. But unlike cities, you don’t have as many foundations, you don’t have as many universities, you don’t have access to the the many skilled workers,” Hysell said. “While rural areas face the same kind of issues, they don’t have as many resources. That’s why we made the Reading Roadmap really a rural focus model.”

The program was spearheaded by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2013. He reallocated $9 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to pay for KRR, now a project of the Kansas Department for Children and Families in partnership with the Kansas Department of Education.

Victor Mata, a second-grader from Gertrude Walker who participates in the program, said he has learned “lots” while being in the KRR program.

He added that his favorite part of KRR was graduating from the Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (LIFE) program, which is an eight-week program for three hours per week in which students and their families have a family-style meal, work on attuned listening, have a child-led play, parent discussions, and literacy nights.

After the program is complete, there is a graduation ceremony where parents, students and other members of their family graduate, said Jamie Schweer, site coordinator for KRR at Gertrude Walker.

“And I got to wear a hat. It was so comfy,” Victor said of the mortarboard he wore. “The cake was the shape of it, too, and it was yummy.”

At the five schools combined, there were a total of 101 graduates.

El Wah Htoo and Ngwe Win, fourth-graders in the program at Gertrude Walker, said since they started in the program, they have read more books.

One of the books the two read while in the program was “Ninja Red Riding Hood,” a book about the classic fairytale, but with a twist.

Schweer said that Victor, El Wah and Ngwe’s reading skills have improved greatly while in the program. The three also took part in the summer program.

“You can see the confidence in them, and you can see they’re excited to be here,” she said. “They get where they look forward to coming, and they’re excited for summer school to start.”

There has not been data collected yet to demonstrate student improvement because of KRR, but the University of Kansas is currently collecting data.

Peggy Patterson, a tutor at Gertrude Walker for the KRR program, said she has seen tremendous growth in the program and in the students since June.

“I’m really excited about this program, and I’m really hoping we can continue it,” she said.