Vernon, CT

Vernon, CT

Grade Level Reading

What is working?

  • Strong cross sector partnerships and collaborations promotes better coordination

  • Making attendance a priority

Summer Learning:

Strong partnerships and collaborations have resulted in better coordination of summer learning programs and have attracted funding opportunities.

Formation of a summer learning work group, a committee of the Vernon School Readiness Council , consisting of Vernon school age summer providers, district curriculum and literacy specialists, a local housing authority, and the local Library worked together this year to better coordinate summer learning in Vernon, increasing opportunity for funding and the creation of a new intensive summer learning program .

New Intensive Summer Reading Program

On the left is a group of children in the library’s summer reading program. Maureen Kearney, who is standing on the right, is a literacy specialist for the District who was critical in identifying the students and the planning and implementation of the program.

On the right is the historical building which houses the Rockville Public library.

The strong collaborations and partnerships in Vernon put Vernon’s local library, Rockville Public Library in an excellent position to receive a grant from the New Alliance Foundation through a program called, “READy for the Grade.” Rockville Public Library was awarded $105,000 over a three-year period for its innovative project designed to combat “summer reading loss.”

With this Grant, the Rockville Public Library in Vernon created and implemented an intensive summer-long program working with children entering grades 1 through 4 who were identified as moderately at risk for summer learning loss by the Vernon Public Schools. Activities included visits from professionals, such as firefighters, veterinarians, and the Mayor, who emphasized the importance of reading in their lives.

Head of Circulation, Sharon Redfern, says, “A lot of summer reading programs are designed for quantity, but by using reading mentors and more one-on-one time, we can make sure children are understanding what they read and maintaining their skills.” Led by a literacy specialist, the adult child ratio was 1:3. The program ran from 1:00-3:30 four days a week and included field trips to apple picking, a local petting zoo, and Barnes and Noble Book Store where each child received a gift card.

In addition to working with the children, the program provided activities for the whole family with the aim of giving parents the skills to make reading an everyday part of their lives.

The library will continue to engage the families throughout the year through invitations to library family events. Children in the program will be assessed this year in the fall, which will inform us of their reading skills retention. That’s when we will really know if our program worked.


The Rockville Public Library planned to serve 50 children this summer ranging in grades 1 through 4. Originally the plan was to have grades 1 and 2 attend 2 days a week and grades 3 and 4 attend the other 2 days. In actuality, the program served 12 children 4 days a week. The positive side was that the students were able to participate in all 4 days of the program, but we were not able to reach the amount of children we were hoping to.

What we learned:

When it came time for children to enroll, there were several barriers that kept students from participating. Transportation was one of them. Being a half day program, many children did not have a way to get to and from the program, particularly those who had working parents. Program marketing was also an issue. Because the library’s program was new, it was not well known. Many parents had made other arrangements for their children in childcare settings and other programs that had already been established. Finally, because the library was targeting children identified by the school system, the pool of possible participants was limited.

These lessons will guide us in creating and marketing next year’s program. With one year under our belt, we now have a high quality free program, which we will recruit for earlier.

There is some money available to provide transportation for the upcoming year. If full day childcare is a need, our summer learning work group will explore how children attending traditional day camp or child care programs who are at risk of summer learning loss can be transported to the library’s program for a portion of the day. Hopefully by continuing to engage this summer’s participants throughout the year, we will retain those who are in grades 1-3 and can build upon that base of children.

Providing Access to Books!

In this picture Jill Merriam, business owner of Key Hyundai, is presenting a check for $1900.00 to school administrator Dr. Possell, Mayor Apel, and Superintendent Dr. Conway for transportation costs for the book mobile.

Our strong partnerships have also attracted a local business, Key Hyundai, to sponsor the Vernon Book Mobile, which distributes books to neighborhoods during the summer months. The Rockville Bank Foundation also provided financial support. The book mobile ensures that children, who may not be enrolled in summer programs and /or live in lower socio economic areas, have access to books. The Book Mobile visited summer lunch programs and summer program providers too. Volunteers on the book mobile help children choose books that are appropriate for their reading level. Rockville Bank foundation granted money for book mobile improvements, which allowed us to purchase storage containers which were more efficient for organizing and storing books safely. This year was the book mobile’s third year in operation and it continues to be a summer highlight for Vernon children. The number of books distributed has grown, starting in 2011 with 700 books to 2,700 books in 2012. Our 2013 number of books distributed will be reported at our September Summer Learning Work group meeting.

To watch a book mobile video, click here.

Literacy training for program providers:

The Summer Learning work group coordinated training for summer providers on how to incorporate literacy skills in their summer programs. Fifty five staff from Vernon’s largest providers participated. The training was designed by Vernon school district’s literacy specialist, Richard O’Brian, which ensured alignment with the district’s goals. As a result, Vernon’s largest summer providers incorporated daily reading time in their schedules along with activities, and tools for supporting comprehension in their training.

What we learned:

Based upon provider feedback, we learned that educating providers about the facts of summer learning loss truly motivates summer staff to learn and incorporate reading in to their program. Demonstrating the gap of achievement that exists when children miss days of school, do not attend preschool, and do not spend any time engaged in learning activities during the summer through an exercise stolen from Hedy Chang (Attendance Works) where different scenarios are presented and children take steps forward or backward based upon these factors was an eye opener for many summer staff.

We also learned that if we were going to ask summer staff to have daily reading time, we needed to make sure they had books that would meet the reading levels and interests of the children. This is why the Vernon Book Mobile made stops at many of the provider locations. Those providers that were not on the book mobile route were offered books from the book mobile to store at their locations.

Finally, we learned that even though all participating programs incorporated daily reading time, programs were inconsistent in implementing the comprehension activities to go with the reading. Since the training was given very close to the camp season, it left little time for the staff to plan. We will evaluate the usefulness of this training during our September work group meeting and discuss how we can better support providers with implementing high quality learning experiences.

Collaboration with a local federally subsidized housing complex to provide free summer lunch for children and summer activities provided children a nutritious lunch and positive social and learning opportunities. The Summer Learning Work group assisted in coordinating free activities for the children around the lunch hour including the Book Mobile. The Girl Scouts, 4H, and a local church offered free programming for the children.

High Quality Early Learning Experience:

Strong Partnerships and Collaboration is at the very essence of the Vernon School Readiness Council, where we have 28 representatives of various organizations coming together on a monthly basis. The mission of ensuring that each child in Vernon enters school ready to learn is a primary focus of the Council. Through the development of communities of practice, the Council created a system for communication and program alignment of best practices that supports the high quality of early care in Vernon. There are 2 communities of practice, one is a prenatal, infant, and toddler CoP and one is a preschool CoP. These groups have been successful as a mechanism for communication on early childhood issues; however, there have been some challenges with aligning on agreed upon key quality program indicators.

What we have learned:

We need decision makers as part of the discussion when making changes in programs. Our Communities of Practice members are often teachers and may agree on best practices, but may not have the final authority on implementing changes, especially if additional funds are required. For example, the Preschool Community of Practice agreed upon a common screening tool, but only 1/3 of providers actually implemented use of the tool. Our Council plans to have a mini retreat where we can have transparent, honest discussions about defining our role and about the barriers that sometimes prevent us from fulfilling it.

The Community of Practice groups have been very successful in supporting healthy development in young children through other strategies as well. The Vernon community- wide baby fair is an example of this. Named the “READY SET BABY” fair, is geared for all families who are expecting a child or have infants and toddlers.

The purpose of the event is to support families in raising healthy infants and toddlers by providing them with information and showing them local and regional resources that are available. Our first fair was held September 2012 and was a huge success. We served 86 families and had 20 different human service and childcare providers at booths which provided educational materials. Participants who visited each booth became eligible to enter a raffle prize drawing. Evaluations showed that most (96%) participants found information they were looking for. Ten families who attended that day enrolled in the WIC program that day. Data collected shows that the majority of participants lived in the lower income area of town who could really benefit from the resources. We are in the final stages of planning “READY SET BABY” 2013.

Betsey Crayton from the Maternity care Center at ECHN hospital talks to an

expectant mom about maternity care services.

A dad walks away with a raffle.

Making school attendance a priority works!

School Attendance:

Vernon has made school attendance a priority. In the fall of 2012, Superintendent of schools, Dr. Mary Conway, took the “Superintendent’s call to action challenge” to improve student achievement by reducing chronic absence. In addition, Vernon is one of 28 school districts statewide participating in the Connecticut Consortium on School Attendance. The Consortium is an association of local school and statewide agency representatives focused on raising school attendance by improving the collection and use of student attendance data. Consistent with this approach, Vernon has implemented school policies and procedures which support students in attending school every day, and working with families who are at risk for chronic absenteeism.

  • As a grade level reading community, Vernon participated in peer learning sessions conducted by “Attendance Works”. Because school attendance is a priority in Vernon, we were able to engage a strong team of District administrators, school counselors, the district data specialist and school social workers in the learning session, which resulted in a plan to keep chronic absence data in the forefront throughout the year. Through Attendance Works, the team used a “District Attendance Tracking Tool,” referred to as the DATT, to see a detailed picture of chronic absence in Vernon in grades k through 5. We will continue to use the DATT to inform, identify and address the barriers that prevent children from attending school. In addition, the team learned that it is everyone’s job to promote good school attendance. As a result, the community and school worked together to create an Attendance Awareness booth at National Night Out, a very well attended summer family event.

In this picture Oz Ramos (right), Youth Services Youth Counselor and Bill Bilyak (left), truancy specialist for the district, remind families that good school attendance leads to positive school achievement. School attendance facts and parent tip sheets were give-aways. They also had a supply of brand new alarm clocks for those who may need them to be on time for school and handed out glossy colored copies of the school calendar.

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  • Sounds like you've done and learned a lot! Thanks for sharing.
    - Betsy (the new community manager for the GLR Communities Network)
  • Love the reading mentor component of the summer reading program through the libraries. It's also exciting to hear how the library and district partnered to offer this great program to the students most at need.  Nice work!

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