Tag Archive for: Literacy

Teaching Artists Help Bring Literacy to Life with Playhouse Square’s Third Grade Literacy Program

2016 marks The Literacy Cooperative’s 10 year anniversary! To celebrate this milestone, we partnered with the Cleveland Bridge Builders Class of 2016 to showcase community organizations across Greater Cleveland that have incorporated literacy-based programs into their scope of service during the past 10 years.  We asked them to write a post highlighting their journey, featuring the accomplishments, achievements and how they have helped the community learn and grow over the last ten years. We will be featuring the posts throughout the next few months. 

This week’s guest blog post comes from Playhouse Square  written by Daniel Hahn, Vice President of Engagement and Education 

Playhouse Square Third Grade Literacy Program (2)

Imagine you are back in third grade. The school year has been underway for several weeks, and you are excited about the opportunities ahead. But you find yourself struggling to keep up with the reading assignments. Much of the vocabulary is unfamiliar. The classroom texts are above your comprehension level. And the state of Ohio is now under the government mandate called the “Third Grade Guarantee,” which dictates that third graders who do not pass the state reading exam will be retained at their grade level next school year. Your teachers are making every possible effort, but your struggles continue. You are on the academic bubble, and could go either way.

In 2013, Playhouse Square anticipated this scenario, and began developing a program to address it. Two of the region’s top teaching artists, Melissa Crum and Eric Perusek, were engaged to work with three handpicked elementary schools from three very different regions: Crestwood Elementary, in the Elyria City School District; Denison Elementary, in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District; and Oxford Elementary, in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District. These schools all had one thing in common: all three had third grade reading scores below the state of Ohio proficiency passage level of 75%. In 2013, Crestwood had 62.7% of third graders passing reading. Denison had 48.2%. Oxford had 53.7%. The genesis of this new program was to see if bringing literature to life in the classroom using drama as a learning medium might help improve students’ reading abilities.

In the late summer/early fall of 2013, Melissa, Eric and I met with teachers and administrators from our selected schools, and began studying the school year’s third grade reading lesson plans and benchmarks. We started crafting drama-based activities to implement in the classroom. In that developmental year, Melissa and Eric visited each school’s third grade classes approximately once every third week, on a rotating basis between schools. After just a few visits, the teachers invited our guest artists to begin testing out interactive lessons in the classroom. The student response was overwhelmingly positive. Third graders who previously were withdrawn were now volunteering for parts to be dramatized in front of their peers. Vocabulary words were shouted around a standing circle as part of a theater warm-up game. Students encouraged each other’s efforts and validated their successes.

With generous support from The Nordson Corporation Foundation and The Stocker Foundation, Playhouse Square was able to fund not only the teaching artists in this initial year, but to supply costumes, properties, and books as well. Before long, every third grade student in each school had a copy of Kate DiCamillo’s award-winning novel, “Because of Winn Dixie,” and began acting out passages of the story in their classroom under the guidance of Melissa and Eric. Words which before were unfamiliar became clearer in the performing of the story. Student enthusiasm was high, and feedback from the teachers was extremely positive.

Playhouse Square third grade literacy program

Playhouse Square teaching artists Melissa Crum and Eric Perusek (photo by Daniel Hahn)

In that first developmental year, the teaching artists visited each school a dozen times, from September through May. Additionally, each school visit allocated planning time in the teacher’s lounge with the respective third grade teachers, to discuss upcoming lesson plans and strategize ways of deeply engaging the students. It’s difficult to ascertain whether or not the improvement in each school’s subsequent reading scores was directly related to this developmental year, but it is worth noting that Crestwood’s passage rate improved by 3%, Denison’s 7%, and Oxford’s 8% from 2013 to 2014.

After that initial developmental year, it was time to launch the pilot program in full. Beginning in the fall of 2014, instead of visiting each school just once every third week, the teaching artists visited once per week. This is a significant amount of time to ask a classroom teacher to allow guests to work in their classroom, so having the full support of the school team was essential. In addition to adding more classroom visits, a few other adjustments were made to the program in 2014-2015.

The teaching artists would now spend the entire school day at each school. Full classroom visits to each third grade class were scheduled, but in addition, Melissa and Eric would spend a second session with smaller groups of struggling readers, providing even more individualized, interactive instruction to reinforce the week’s lessons. Furthermore, Playhouse Square provided tickets and transportation for each participating class to attend performances of children’s plays at the Ohio Theatre in downtown Cleveland. For some students, this was their first ever experience attending live, professional theater. Student enthusiasm and teacher encouragement remained strong. At the end of the year, students at Crestwood Elementary performed selections from the year’s reading for their parents and families in the school gymnasium. It was a wonderful celebration.

Test results from this pilot year show varied outcomes. In part, this is likely because the state changed the reading test between 2013 and 2014, as Ohio opted for a more rigorous exam in the latter year, making a direct apples to apples comparison untenable. Other dynamics outside of the classroom environment also deeply impact learning, such as student transient rates, regional poverty levels, and  of course the group of students’ individual abilities themselves. Still, the numbers are worth noting. Below are the scores showing the ODE test results for Third Grade Reading in the three schools in which the program was implemented, as well as scores of other schools in those same districts for comparison.

All Elyria City Elementary Schools 2014 2015 Variance
Elyria Crestwood 65.8% 69.7% 3.9%
Elyria Ely 82.6% 68.7% -13.9%
Elyria Franklin 56.3% 45.1% -11.2%
Elyria McKinley 77.9% 73.2% -4.7%
Elyria Oakwood 72.4% 61.1% -11.3%
Elyria Prospect 77.8% 82.5% 4.7%
Elyria Windsor 75.8% 87.0% 11.2%
All Cleveland Heights Elementary Schools
Cleveland Heights Oxford 61.7% 66.7% 5.0%
Cleveland Heights Roxboro 89.8% 83.6% -6.2%
Cleveland Heights Boulevard 71.1% 69.6% -1.5%
Cleveland Heights Canterbury 91.0% 92.0% 1.0%
Cleveland Heights Fairfax 75.0% 70.0% -5.0%
Cleveland Heights Gearity 79.6% 59.2% -20.4%
Cleveland Heights Noble 69.7% 63.0% -6.7%
Sampling of CMSD Elementary Schools
CMSD Denison 55.3% 45.5% -9.8%
CMSD Charles Eliot 57.1% 50.0% -7.1%
CMSD Almira 58.3% 34.1% -24.2%
CMSD Franklin D Roosevelt 52.0% 27.5% -24.5%
CMSD Newton D Baker 53.3% 64.0% 10.7%
CMSD Patrick Henry 53.6% 62.9% 9.3%
CMSD Wade Park 52.5% 35.6% -16.9%
CMSD Watterson-Lake 52.2% 66.7% 14.5%
CMSD Walton 54.8% 54.8% 0.0%


As you can see, Denison’s scores dropped by over 9%. While similar CMSD schools dropped even more precipitously under the more rigorous exam, others stayed flat or even improved. This makes evaluating the results at Denison even more challenging. At Crestwood in Elyria, a nearly 4% testing increase is encouraging, especially in comparison to the other schools in the district. And Oxford Elementary in Cleveland Heights showed the strongest improvement of any school in its district.

Still,  a variety of conditions must be considered when looking at student learning. Playhouse Square’s Third Grade Literacy Program, now in its second year of full implementation, continues to make adjustments to maximize student learning based on in-classroom experiences and teacher feedback. With the continued support of our partners, we continue to work towards improving student learning.

Crestwood Elementary teacher Ann Coleman sums up her feelings about the Third Grade Literacy Program in this way: “Because of this program, my students are, without a doubt, better readers, writers, and communicators. Students are able to learn language arts in a creative, active, and meaningful way and have been able to apply the skills they have learned into other areas of the curriculum. I cannot imagine teaching language arts without this program!”

Learn more about Playhouse Square on their website: http://www.playhousesquare.org/.

Also be sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.



Ready Readers Plus Combats Literacy and Math Obstacles for Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland Members

2016 marks The Literacy Cooperative’s 10 year anniversary! To celebrate this milestone, we partnered with the Cleveland Bridge Builders Class of 2016 to showcase community organizations across Greater Cleveland that have incorporated literacy-based programs into their scope of service during the past 10 years.  We asked them to write a post highlighting their journey, featuring their accomplishments, achievements and how they have helped the community learn and grow over the last ten years. We will be featuring the posts throughout the next few months. 

Our second guest post comes from The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, written by Jazmine Walker, Academic Success Manager.

Boys and Girls ClubThe Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland have made many positive strides over the last 10 years. One of which includes adding Ready Readers Plus onto our list of programs!

Ready Readers Plus is an early literacy program aimed at improving the math and reading skills for members’ ages 6 to 9 years old through a series of fun, educational and familial opportunities.  It has been shown through low literacy scores in Cleveland that there is a deficit in the way our members are learning. More and more, we are encountering members that are consistently passing through grades but are not able to perform basic calculating functions. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland decided to combat these obstacles, so that our members will be able to keep a competitive edge in academia. This is done through program based on a curriculum outline that’s aligned with 5 common core standards, a family engagement component and incentives!

RRP instructors have made conscience decisions to be intentional while creating an environment that is conducive to productivity, fun and academia. Our Family Engagement component is also essential to the success of the program. Each site has one family night event per month. So far, 44% of parents reported a greater confidence in their child’s advancement in school as a result of attending the RRP program at least 3 times per week. Parent involvement at the Walton Club has increased substantially during the 2015-16 program year. The teachers and administrators at the Boys and Girls Club (2)school have provided BGCC with the NWEA standardized testing scores for the 2nd grade students (members and non-members), and are in the process of providing us with test scores for all grade levels. This is a big victory for our organization as it can be very challenging to obtain grade information from our school sites. Having this information serves as a means for us to compare our member’s progress to non-members and based on the comparison we have done on the 2nd graders scores, the results show that Club members at Walton performed better on this exam than their non-attending peers!

We are excited to see what accomplishments our members will make this school year! We are anticipating that 50% of our members will increase their math and reading skills.

Ten years ago, there was no early literacy program comparable to RRP at BGCC. Members are now being exposed to a setting that is educational, yet exhilarating!

To learn more about The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland be sure to check out their website: http://www.clevekids.org/ .

Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter as well!

Ten Years With America SCORES Cleveland – Donte’s Story of Continued Growth and Success

2016 marks The Literacy Cooperative’s 10 year anniversary! To celebrate this milestone, we partnered with the Cleveland Bridge Builders Class of 2016 to showcase community organizations across Greater Cleveland that have incorporated literacy-based programs into their scope of service during the past 10 years.  We asked them to write a post highlighting their journey, featuring the accomplishments, achievements and how they have helped the community learn and grow over the last ten years. We will be featuring the posts throughout the next few months. 

Our first guest post comes from America SCORES Cleveland, written by Boo Geisse, Program Manager.

America SCORES Cleveland - Core Group Photo - Poetry Slam 2015

America SCORES Cleveland, Core Group at Poetry SLAM! 2015

Ten years ago, Donte Washington was a second grader at Empire Computech Elementary School in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. An exceptional student from a religious, two-parent home, Donte struggled not with academics or poor behavior but with low self-confidence and extreme shyness.

“I was introverted, quiet, not willing to do anything,” he says. “I was a kid who didn’t participate in anything.”

Enter America SCORES Cleveland. A literacy and health youth development organization, America SCORES Cleveland impacts Cleveland youth by providing soccer and writing instruction after school.

When Donte first encountered SCORES in 2006, the organization was only two years old and had just expanded into the east side of Cleveland. Luckily for Donte, his school was one of them.

“I didn’t think I was going to like it,” he admits. “I had no idea what soccer was. I had never written a poem in my life.”

Donte’s comments are typical, repeated hundreds if not thousands of times in the ears of SCORES staff members. Soccer in the inner city? Poetry for youth who struggle to read and write? The odds seemed stacked against it.

Yet in the twelve years SCORES has run its unique programming in Cleveland city schools, the results continue to impress, and impress upon we who work for SCORES, the significance of the organization.

Ten years ago, America SCORES Cleveland was a small grassroots organization struggling to survive. Today, SCORES spans nine Cleveland schools in five neighborhoods and is geared for greater growth.

“When I came on, we were a three-person staff in seven schools, with only one program per school,” says Executive Director Debi Pence-Meyenberg.

SCORES was on uncertain ground when Debi started. In her first two months at the organization, she hired Matthew Williams, Program Director. A year later she brought Paul Khacherian on board as Associate Director. All three remain at SCORES today, and, with an additional two full-time staff members and a core group of dedicated interns, the program has grown to serve over 600 youths each year.

Here’s the breakdown: In 2008, SCORES expanded its 3rd-5th grade programming to include 6th-8th graders, growing the program alongside its dedicated poet-athletes. 2012 saw the birth of the Alumni Program for high school students who aged out of typical programming. Today, alums referee SCORES soccer games, act as assistant coaches to existing SCORES teams, volunteer at SCORES events and participate in college and career readiness programs hosted at the SCORES office. In 2014, the organization grew yet again—this time to create a “Jr. SCORES” program for 1st and 2nd graders.

“We have quadrupled in size,” says Debi. And greater reach means greater impact.

“SCORES programming now serves a CMSD student for an eleven year continuum,” says Matthew. “SCORES has been able to breathe life into our schools and our neighborhoods by providing positive team activities.”

Donte America Scores Cleveland

Donte sharing his America SCORES experience at Poetry SLAM! in November, 2015

Nobody demonstrates this impact as fully as Donte. After that first season, he spent every year, every season in SCORES that he could. As a middle schooler, he was elected team captain by his soccer coach; he led warm-ups, ran drills and soccer practices and helped his team remain undefeated during his eighth grade year. In ninth grade, Donte emailed SCORES about staying involved—an inquiry that played a large part in the creation of the Alumni Program.

“[The SCORES staff] had had conversations about starting one,” Donte says. “And I just so happened to email them about staying in the program, and that’s what started it.”

Today, Donte remains one of SCORES’ most active alums. In addition to the work he does for SCORES, Donte is a high school senior, an employee at Marc’s and was recently accepted into Cleveland State University, where he will begin his college career this fall. Additionally, last November, when volunteering at SCORES’ signature annual event, the Poetry SLAM!, Donte was approached by a SCORES board member and offered a summer internship at a Cleveland company.

Of course, none of this surprises those who know him; Donte is recognized as a successful young man and a leader by all. From former coaches to SCORES staff, and poet-athletes to complete strangers, his presence leaves an indelible impression.

“Donte’s kindness, generosity and dedication are what have impressed me the most,” says Matthew, who has, alongside Debi and Paul, watched Donte grow up.

These types of comments still take the eighteen year old by surprise—but while he remains soft spoken and humble, Donte’s shyness is fading in the light of something new: a realization of who he truly is, and who he is to become.

“I have grown to be a leader,” he says. He contributes much of his transformation to his time with America SCORES Cleveland. “Without SCORES, I honestly don’t think I would be in the position I am today. SCORES kept me out of trouble. It taught me right from wrong. It’s the biggest opportunity I’ve had.”

As we at America SCORES Cleveland look back on the past ten years—of Donte’s life and our own—we can’t help but feel excited for the future. Donte plans to become a graphic designer; he’d like to design footwear and continue to volunteer and make positive change in his community.

And us? In addition to our regular programming, SCORES currently hosts four fundraising events each year, is on the national curriculum development team for all America SCORES’ affiliates, is a member of the Slavic Village P-16 Initiative, a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture “Cultural Partner,” a GCNCA P4SS and MyCom partner agency and, last year, received its first financial support from United Way of Great Cleveland.

Despite all of this, SCORES has no plans on slowing down.

Feliciana - United Way Annual Meeting 3

Feliciana Hambrick-Thomas performing her poem, ‘Confusion,’ at United Way Annual Meeting March 4th, 2016

Ask Debi what her plans are for the future, and this is the answer you’ll receive: “In ten years we’ll have a staff of ten to twenty. We’ll be in twenty schools, and they’ll all host 1st through 8th grade programming. We’ll have a direct referral program for our alums and scholarships for our students for college.”

Some may think these goals lofty, but this mentality has not only kept America SCORES Cleveland alive all these years, it has made it thrive.

“I am inspired and humbled by the extraordinary youth I have the privilege to work with each day,” Debi says. “I continue to do this work because I believe these youth need a positive outlet for their creativity, and programs like America SCORES keep kids on the right path to achieve their full potential.”

We’ll drink (coffee) to that.

To learn more about America SCORES Cleveland head over to their website, www.americaSCOREScleveland.org

Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter as well!


CLE-BEE Corporate Spelling Bee

CLE-Bee graphic

Can you spell C-O-M-P-E-T-I-T-I-O-N? On September 8th 2016, word connoisseurs from across Northeast Ohio will gather together for a “friendly” Corporate Spelling Bee. The event will raise awareness around the implications of low literacy and funds for The Literacy Cooperative.  The inaugural CLE-BEE will take place at The City Club of Cleveland and will be a fun event that will bring together members of the community while getting out the message about the challenges of literacy.

Over our ten year existence, we have hosted a number of events featuring prominent speakers about different aspects of the literacy, but we have never hosted our own fundraising event. We here at The Literacy Cooperative asked ourselves what kind of event would bring together the community, allow us to get the message out about literacy and its challenges and also be fun? A Corporate Spelling Bee seemed like the perfect idea. It is literacy themed and can easily involve all members of the corporate community from law firms and banks to community organizations.

The spelling bee will also provide an opportunity to amplify our message about literacy. One of our goals is to bring broader awareness of the challenges of literacy to our community and this event will allow us to do just that.

The CLE-BEE will take place September 8th, in conjunction with our annual celebration of International Literacy Day. The competition will consist of four brackets: legal, banking/financial, corporate and community. There will be 32 teams total who will participate in four qualifying rounds. The final four teams, the champions from each bracket, will compete against each other to determine who is the ultimate spelling champion in Northeast Ohio.

Do you want to participate in the spelling bee? You will be in good company with teams from great organizations like Lubrizol, Eaton, BakerHostetler, and Thompson Hine. We are in the process of registering teams now. Registration forms and a flyer can be found here. Want more information about the event? Contact Elaine Yeip at eyeip@literacycooperative.org. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we will be using #CLEBEE to share up-to-date information about the event.

Read Across America Day – March 2nd

 NEOReads2March 2nd, 2016 is Read Across America Day. It is a day, created by the National Education Association, where everyone across the country picks up a book and reads together. It is a day to raise awareness about the importance of reading and literacy. We at The Literacy Cooperative along with a number of organizations across the area are joining together to show the rest of the country how much Northeast Ohio values literacy.

Want to join in the celebration? Love to read? Understand how important literacy is to the growth and well-being of our city? Here are some ideas of ways you can show your love for reading on March 2nd!

  • Read Together– Grab friends, family members or coworkers, the books you are all currently reading and sit down and read together. Whether it is during you lunch break, before work or school or as a way to unwind at night. Show those around you how much you love to read and share together the joy of reading. Snap a picture of your group enjoying a good story and post it to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with #NEOReads. We will be liking and sharing posts and pictures all day!
  • Celebrate Dr. Seuss’s Birthday – Read Across America Day is also Dr. Seuss’s Birthday. One of the main ways many people, cities and organizations celebrate the day is by dong some fun activities to celebrate the wit and quirky writings of Dr. Seuss. Do you own or run a daycare? Are you a teacher? Throw a fun birthday party for Dr. Seuss, where you read one of his stories, act it out or make up your own silly and fun rhymes. There is no better way to celebrate a love of reading then celebrating a man who wrote some fantastic stories. Check out the Seussville site for some great ideas and activities, . Don’t forget to share the fun and festivities with us using  #NEOReads.
    Read Acrosss America Day St. Claire school (2)
  • Read 20 mins with your child – Reading just 20 minutes a day with your child can make a world of difference. Let them choose their favorite Dr. Seuss book or any other favorite book and spend some time together reading. Even have them dress up as their favorite character as a way to truly bring the story to life! Make it a daily routine!
Read Across America Day St. Claire School (3)

Kindergarten and First Grade Class of St. Clare School

  •  Sign up for the 2000 Days Pledge – More than anything else the first 2000 days from birth to kindergarten have the single greatest effect on a child’s life. Take the 2000 days pledge, and pledge to make the most of this time to ensure that your child will succeed throughout his or her life.

These are just some ideas. The most important thing you can do on March 2nd, is take some time out to read, either with a group, alone or with your children. Help us show the rest of the country that NEO values reading and literacy. We are looking forward to seeing all the      pictures and posts about the way you celebrate Read Across America Day with us on March, 2nd, 2016.

Remember to share your reading pictures and celebrations with #NEOReads on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We will be sharing and liking posts all day!