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Academic Literacy Course Seeking To Expand In State College Schools

by on March 18, 2014 9:20 AM

Citing its success for 7th grade students in State College schools, the Academic Literacy course is looking to become a full-time offering for both 7th and 8th grade students starting next year.

A committee of teachers and representatives from area schools presented an overview and discussed implementation of the course in a proposal to the State College Area School District board on Monday night.

As part of a district-wide initiative to improve students' ability to critically read, write, and discuss texts in a range of disciplines, the district implemented Academic Literacy 7 in the 2013-14 school year as a 45-day course with the goal of transitioning the course to being offered every day the following year.

"The students tell me, 'This class changes how I look at the world,'" says Marie Madonna-Kissell, 7th grade academic literacy teacher at Park Forest Middle School. "They're no longer passive participants in a text. They engage in it."

With the proposed addition of the course, class time for middle school students will be reduced to 40 minutes from the previous 43 minutes, a loss of 15 minutes each class period per week. Extended homeroom, which normally runs for a half hour, will be cut to 10 minutes.

In addition, a staffing increase of 4.5 full-time employees will need to be hired to lead instruction and assist the three current academic literacy teachers. While the committee acknowledged that new hires will have an impact on the district's budget, the course will utilize existing textbooks and other classroom materials and does not require additional funds.

In the meantime, the course is awaiting approval from the district board before beginning to draft the curriculum.

"It's a much more strategic focus for kids, because it focuses on their academic world," says superintendent Bob O'Donnell, who noted that many of the school districts that outperform State College already have full-time academic literacy programs in place at the middle school level.

"It doesn't help you do something - it helps you do something better," he says.

Update on Delta program

Located in downtown in the district's Fairmount Building, the Delta program offers an alternative to the traditional high school experience, including smaller class sizes, an "open campus," and opportunities to take courses at Penn State.

According to program director Jon Downs, 51 students have enrolled since the program was approved by the board on January 27. The total will be capped at 80, and so far, the number of students is evenly distributed across 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. Downs estimates that "approximately 45-50 percent" of those enrolled are in charter schools.

"We've been full steam ahead," says Downs.

The Delta program will hold an open house on Tuesday, March 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fairmount Building on the corner of Corner of W. Nittany Ave. and Fraser St to provide more information for prospective students and parents.

March is Youth Art Month

Close to 20 students presented framed works of art to members of the school district board to begin Monday night's meeting. It's part of the March is Youth Art Month, which shows appreciation for young artists.

Dani Crowe, art coordinator, introduced the students and snapped photos of their creations. Dozens of self-portraits adorned the walls, while the framed prints, painting, and drawings were displayed alongside smiling faces.

"March isn't just for luck of the Irish," says Crowe. "It's a celebration of young art talent."

O'Donnell praised the students for their work, and was happy to take the time to recognize young local talent.

"It really brightens up our evening, and really reminds us of the good work our students do throughout the year," he says.

Lintal approved as new head coach

Matt Lintal was recognized as the new head coach of the State College Area High School football team Monday night, officially taking over the void left by retired coach Al Wolski.

Wolski served as head coach for the last 10 seasons before retiring from both teaching and coaching in December at age 63.

Lintal, a counselor at State High, graduated from the school back in 1999. Before returning to his high school stomping ground as an assistant coach in 2010, Lintal coached wide receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks during his seven seasons at Bucknell University.

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C.J. Doon is a frequent contributor to Onward State and is a former intern. A Long Island native, Doon is studying print journalism at Penn State.
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