Better Together


Submitted by: Katie Hendricks, Literacy Specialist-Elementary Program Department, Girls Incorporated

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” —Helen Keller

This is a sentiment we strongly adhere to at Girls Inc. of Alameda County where collaboration and school-day alignment is at the foundation of our school-based programs. We believe there are some universal principles that support building collaborative partnerships that can be helpful for any CBO looking to become an integral part of a school community. Here are two principles we’d like to put forth as best practices:

  • Open sharing: partners provide a window into the school culture, academic progress and family life of each student
  • Aligning literacy practices: working with partners to understand the initiatives and classroom practices they are utilizing, and integrating these practices into the CBO’s delivery model (i.e., training, curriculum etc.)

“When Ms. Malorie reads to us we get to answer questions. I really like to talk with my friends about the book because it gets really interesting and we get into it.”

We know our program is only as strong and successful as the partnerships we build and cultivate with each school’s administration, teachers and support staff. What follows is an example of how we applied these principles with one of our school partners.

The Beginning

This year we launched a new partnership with Acorn Woodland Elementary school in East Oakland. From the onset, collaboration and alignment between the school-day goals and the after school program has been paramount to a successful collaboration. Acorn Woodland is in the process of overhauling their literacy program. Their goal: Every student will grow 1.5 years in their Fountas and Pinnell reading assessment by June. To achieve this ambitious goal, the school needs everyone on board working to support reading success.

Collaboration in Action

In order to provide meaningful support to Acorn students, our Literacy Specialist, Program Manager, and site coordinator met regularly with the school’s Principal and Intervention Teacher. During the summer and throughout the year, we collaborated to set after school program schedules and goals to align with the school-day. Acorn is transitioning to the Common Core Standards and emphasizing academic discussions using Accountable Talk. To align, the Literacy Specialist trained our instructors to use book clubs in which all students read the same text, analyze it and deepen their comprehension through student-led discussions. Instructors use the same Accountable Talk language and teaching strategies as the school day. Honey, a fourth grader, says, “When Ms. Malorie reads to us we get to answer questions. I really like to talk with my friends about the book because it gets really interesting and we get into it.”

To support reading growth, research shows students need to spend more time reading out of school. According to the International Reading Association, “Time spent reading books was fairly strongly associated with the measures of a child’s status as a reader. More interesting, and important, is the fact that time spent reading books [out of school] was the best predictor of a child’s growth as a reader from the second to the fifth grade.” (Anderson R. C., 1988)

As a result, we’ve included a structured and accountable 20-30 minutes of independent reading, 3-5 days a week for all students. As independent reading is also a homework requirement at Acorn, we coordinated with teachers to help students record these minutes on their daily reading logs. This has been a huge support to the school to ensure quality independent reading is happening and a great support to families as much of children’s reading homework is done before they leave school.

The last important piece was to get students excited and motivated to read! Together we have built a love of reading by providing a variety books at each student’s level. We use an incentive program to track student progress and growth. Students set goals for themselves and their class. Each class tracks and records the number of minutes each student reads and celebrates their achievements. When a student reads 200+ minutes in a month they earn a “Reading is Rad” ticket and a trip to the on campus “bookstore” to select a book for their home library!

As the Oakland Reads unofficial motto tells us…”Schools can’t do it alone…but neither can after school programs.” Creating successful partnerships with the school-day program through open sharing, alignment and collaboration will support Oakland students to reaching our goal of 85% reading on grade level by 2020.

Resources: Accountable Talk

General Info.:
Toolkit: Accountable_Talk_Toolkit_10-09.pdf
Accountable Talk for ELLs:
Talk Stems and Sentence Starters: Accountable Talk Features and Language Stems.pdf

Anderson, Wilson & Fielding, “Growth in Reading and How Children Spend Their Time Outside of School” Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Summer, 1988), pp. 285-303: AWF Growth in Reading.pdf

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