As Tuesday’s after-school bustle cleared, Garden City Public Schools teachers and administrators, many of them wearing matching shirts from the various end of year fun days, joined Reading Roadmap officials in Gertrude Walker Elementary School’s library to celebrate the school’s recent statewide honor

In April, the Confidence in Kansas Public Education Task Force named the school one of its 2017 Challenge Award recipients for closing the achievement gap in fourth grade reading. Because Gertrude Walker is one of the district’s five schools using the Kansas Reading Roadmap’s after-school program, Todd Fertig, the national organization’s director of operations, and Andrew Hysell, the state organization’s executive director, traveled west to recognize and congratulate the school’s team on their achievement.

Like many schools in Garden City, Gertrude Walker is a melting pot for students of different cultures, backgrounds and languages. The language barrier can make it difficult for students to achieve in many areas, particularly reading. It’s a challenge that isn’t widespread across western Kansas, said Kate Combs, Reading Roadmap’s program director for the region.

“That is probably the biggest obstacle that they have,” Combs said about Gertrude Walker’s many languages. “But they take that obstacle and hit it head on … It’s amazing at how they take it and embrace every child, and they take them from where they are and get them to the final result, no problem.”

Gertrude Walker principal Phil Keidel said the school’s Reading Roadmap program coordinator, Jamie Schweer, had assembled a great team of teachers from across the district to help struggling students during the after-school program. To him, they were the best of the best.

Schweer said the program dealt heavily with phonics and vocabulary lessons, reinforcing and expanding on what students learned during the day in smaller, more intimate groups.

Since the program was in place, test scores have gone up, Schweer said. When Hysell commended those involved in the program for reducing the amount of students classified as most at-risk by 50 percent, teachers and administrators alike broke into applause.

Earlier, Hysell had told The Telegram about the care and specificity he thought Garden City Public Schools used when implementing Reading Roadmap. The program was a tool to help children and did its best when carried out as part of a plan, he said.

He and Fertig had not come to the school on a whim. Hysell said they came to meet some of the people who had made Gertrude Walker’s recent achievement possible, and to take the time to celebrate the work they had done.

“It’s really great when you show results on your (Reading Roadmap) assessments … but it’s even better when the state sees your scores going up and recognizes you,” Hysell told those in attendance.

Hysell showed the group an informational video Reading Roadmap had shot at the school and said the organization planned on making a second one with leftover footage. He handed off the reception to Combs, who presented the Challenge Award to Keidel and gifts to Schweer and the team’s interventionists.

With the formalities out of the way, the group turned to cake and lemonade and socializing. As the celebration wound down, Keidel said Gertrude Walker had received the award because the school had teachers that worked hard and students who were willing and eager to learn.

“It’s a nice surprise. We would have done the same thing whether we got this award, whether we were having cake and lemonade ... We would be doing the same effort that got us to this point,” Keidel said. “We like to brag, but at the same time, hopefully, we have humility (to know) we’re just doing what we do and seeing what our kids are getting out of it.”


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