September 19, 2016
To Whom It May Concern,
Thanks to Pat Sohmer with Park County Public Library, during the course of the 2015-2016 school year, I was fortunate enough to have my entire class of second grade students participate in Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord program five days a week, 20 minutes a session. In addition, my students were also able to utilize the Reading Assistant program.
Throughout my 21 years as an elementary classroom teacher, I always look for ways to challenge and support my students during independent reading time. Using Fast ForWord helped to create and maintain an atmosphere of reader’s who were focused and working toward a set of goals. Each student was working on brain exercises specifically matched to his/her ability level and I was confident that my students were participating in a motivating, beneficial, educational program to help them increase and strengthen their reading skills.
As the year progressed, the students were excited to analyze their data from the individual progress graphs. The data reinforced to students the exercises students enjoyed and did well with, as they saw their scores shoot up, but even more importantly, it helped them to see where their challenge areas were located thus motivating them to try harder and move forward. As the students saw their progress, their enthusiasm and excitement about doing their daily Fast ForWord was remarkable and contagious.
The Reading Assistant program was very useful as it allowed my students to hear and practice fluency in written text. Being a fluent reader is one of the strategies of a strong reader and my class was able to strengthen their oral reading skills and in turn, their comprehension.
At the beginning of the program, my class was comprised of strong readers, reluctant readers, non-readers and readers with current unidentifiable challenges. When we finished in May, at the end of the school year, my class was comprised of students who understood themselves as readers, where they were strong and where they could continue to grow. One student in particular was no longer a “mystery” to me- something within the program connected because after many months of “flat-lining”, he shot up and blasted out of the exercises in which he was working. I even noticed a difference in his overall performance as a student- I attribute this change to Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant. For all of my students, reading wasn’t just a task, but it became a way of life. Without using the program, I don’t think there would have been this type of transformation with 100% of my students.
Second Grade Teacher
Deer Creek Elementary
Donegan Burns Grant Evaluation Report
Park County Public Library, County of Park, Colorado
Patricia Shepard Sohmer, M.A., Manager
September 30, 2016
Fast ForWord Implementation through a Public Library Service Delivery Model
Generous support from Donegan Burns Foundation made possible the 2016 expansion of our Fast ForWord implementation that Park County Public Library began with a mini-pilot in May of 2015. At that time we had a limited 20 licenses and a continual waiting list of children and adults who registered to participate in the life-changing exercises of Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord. The immediate impact on our community as a result of the Donegan Burns funding allowed all registered participants to access the Fast ForWord brain exercises without delay. A concern had been that having a waiting list might discourage participation. In most cases, formerly wait-listed registrants embraced their access to Fast ForWord. In some cases, however, it was a period of months before previously wait-listed registrants actively engaged. When they did engage in the exercises, participation itself seemed to be the reinforcement keeping them engaged and progressing. The self-reinforcing experience of participants in Fast ForWord is extremely important with the public library service delivery model since the library role is one of encouragement, support, and assistance rather than prescribed intervention.
For the spring semester, an entire second grade class and an entire kindergarten class along with smaller groups and individuals swelled the ranks of participants with enthusiastic, motivated effort. Then across the summer, much to our joy, the Boys and Girls Club of the High Rockies adopted Fast ForWord through Park County Public Library for the reading component of their academic summer program.
The January 2016 through mid-August results can be seen through the graphic display provided by Scientific Learning from our recent progress monitoring conference call. The significance shown from these graphics is that 28 students demonstrated a five month gain with 37 days of Fast ForWord usage. The number of students in the struggling category decreased from seven to five, and the number of students in the emerging category decreased from 15 to eight. More students now appear in the top two proficiency levels.
One of the unexpected challenges we faced when the summer session ended just before mid-August was that the IT department ‘wiped the I-pads clean for the fall semester’ before many of our summer participants were able to complete an end-of-summer Reading Progress Indicator assessment. The good news is that many, if not most, of our summer participants are continuing with Fast ForWord this fall through the ‘Power Hour’ program at the Boys and Girls Club of the High Rockies as facilitated by an AmeriCorps worker.
Two participant categories, home school families and adults, are unaffected by the school year calendar (and, of course, school-based participants have the option of also doing their exercises at home or library). Through the end of August into the beginning of September, a family came to one of our library branches to restart the Fast ForWord exercises for their home-schooled child. To encourage the family and to coach the child, we arranged for multiple sessions where I could sit with the child and listen in using a y-adapter. In this way both the child and family built confidence in being able to continue working independent of my involvement, yet knowing I will be available for them as needed along with our trained librarian. Each of our branch managers (Fairplay, Bailey, Guffey, and Lake George) attended the January training session for Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant in order to be equipped to assist our participants.
Fall semester began after mid-August and I wanted to give our teachers time to settle into their routines with their new students before I reached out to them. Surprisingly, on the first day of school two teachers from Deer Creek Elementary emailed me right away to begin planning how their students could participate in Fast ForWord. Since then two more teachers from Edith Teter Elementary have been working with me to plan their participation in Fast ForWord!
Another challenge here in our rural setting is broadband capacity. Fortunately, Park County is on the leading-edge of actively participating in the initiative to improve connectivity across our 2,166 square mile expanse. One of our commissioners serves on the state Broadband Initiative as well as spearheading the Park County work to have fiber at most of our anchor institutions by 2017. As library manager, I serve on the Park County Broadband Advisory Board since our library branches are anchors institutions and community hubs. If our participants do not have adequate connectivity to do their Fast ForWord exercises at home, our schools and libraries have the capacity to serve them. One of our library branches will become a Carrier Neutral Facility in this effort. Park County’s collaborative efforts in solving broadband infrastructure problems exemplify the creative problem solving skills rural communities exhibit in addressing our challenges. Just as Fast ForWord addresses the underpinnings of literacy by improving literacy and cognitive skills, the Broadband Initiative is creating the infrastructure necessary for even more people to be able to access their online world.
In addition to reaching out to our schools, home school families, and community organizations, I presented our library service delivery model for brain exercises to the international library community in June with an online session through Library 2.016. In October I will present to a 13-state conference what the Donegan Burns Foundation has made possible here in Park County and challenging my fellow librarians to replicate our efforts in their own communities. We have nearly 200 registered potential participants today.
While we were not successful in obtaining Federal funding to help us acquire a perpetual site license ensuring sustainability of Fast ForWord for Park County this year, I will attend a funding roundtable (Rural Philanthropy Days) this morning to introduce myself and our need to ensure sustainability of these valuable Fast ForWord exercises for our rural community.
In closing and with gratitude for the Donegan Burns Foundation funding a 1-yr (2016) site license for Fast ForWord (all funding paid the site license fee), please enjoy the letter from one of the Deer Creek Elementary teachers, the photo of some of her students engaged in Fast ForWord, and the photo of one of our home-schooled children working at the library.
Respectfully submitted with hope for renewal,
Pat Shepard Sohmer, Park County Public Library Manager