School gets 'A+' for reading theatrics
Arizona Republic
March 31, 2008


Jessica VanZalen

Harris Elementary will be receiving Gilbert Public Schools' first A+ Exemplary Award for its Reader's Theater Troupe.

The Arizona Educational Foundation will present the award Wednesday at the school.

Carol Keough, a fifth year teacher at Harris, started the program after receiving a grant in January 2007.

"When I started this, my goal was for everyone to improve reading fluency," Keough said.

The idea of Reader's Theater has been around for a long time and Keough found it to be a fun way to improve the reading skills of her English Language Learning students.

The first students in the program have continued growth in reading skills though they are no longer in the troupe, which admits first and second-graders by invitation, she said.

The students perform every two weeks for classes, their parents, and sometimes read poems during school announcements, Keough said.

Reader's Theater improves skills in reading, confidence, public speaking and English fluency, which will be beneficial for the children's academic future, Keough said.

The reading fluency scores from the DIBELS standardized tests have gone up tremendously since the initiation of the program, said Becky Henderson, principal of Harris Elementary, a Gilbert district school that's in Mesa.

"What's wonderful about it is when you see kids that are just starting the program who are usually the quiet kids and by the time the last performance comes they show growth and confidence," Henderson said.

Teachers have begun to recommend non-ELL students for the program because of the progress it's shown, Keough said.

There are currently nine students in the troupe, which practices Monday through Wednesday before school.

The students see it as a theater class so it's a fun activity to get excited about, Keough said.

"It's a very innovative program," Henderson said. "[Keough] has taken it leaps and bounds and made it an elite club on campus."

Parents have been very supportive of their children in the program, Keough said. It's a big commitment to get the kids to school early and to help them practice their skills for performances.

Jesus Flores, 6, a first grader at Harris and Reader's Troupe member, said he loves to read and perform in front of his peers.

Though he was nervous reading for the first time in front of his friends he said that it made him proud when people clapped for him.

"I wanted to read the words very well and I did," he said.

He practices reading every day and enjoys being a character, especially playing "Tom" in The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Keough thinks the program can go a long way if more teachers and other schools across the state would get involved.

The important thing is to find someone who is committed on a campus to get the program started, she said.

Harris is receiving one of the eight A+ Exemplary Awards that are being given to programs across the state.

At the award ceremony, the students will be reading in front of the school as well as their parents.

Keough said she was stunned when notified that that program won an A+ Award.

"It's a wonderful thing for the community," she said. "I'm almost speechless."