PORT CLINTON — If a visitor walks into Port Clinton High School at the right time, he will be faced with something unusually out of place: a quiet atmosphere.
For 14 minutes, three times a week, every student and every staff member pulls out a book and reads for pleasure as part of the R.E.D. Block initiative. For those few minutes, the normally bustling school settles down as everyone focuses into a world found only in the pages of a book.
“The whole school is quiet,” said Jan Gluth, director of student, staff and community development.
R.E.D., which stands for Read Every Day, was the brainchild of Resource Intervention Specialist Lori Scalf, who recognized a need to address reading and vocabulary deficiencies in high school students.
“We identified the problem that we have more and more students who are struggling readers,” Scalf said.
It is a problem seen across the state. According to the Ohio Department of Education, 53% of Ohio students who took the ACT test scored below the remediation-free level on the English language arts assessment in 2018. Pandemic-forced online learning in the following years caused some children to fall further behind.
While literacy underperformance is not unique to Port Clinton High School, the school’s response is. Scalf is not approaching the problem with more curriculum, more testing and more pressure on staff and students. Instead, she hopes to increase literacy levels by teaching the students that reading can be fun.
During R.E.D. Blocks, students must set aside work and electronics and pick up something to read of their choice. They can choose anything they want, including a novel, nonfiction book, or magazine. Electronic devices are not allowed, but comic books and graphic novels are heartily approved.
“Trivia books seem to be a hit. They love ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not.’” Scalf said. “We want to promote reading and help students enjoy books at their own level. If they can find some enjoyment out of it, that is half the battle.”
Scalf knew that, to truly make an impact, everyone in the school had to be on board, so every staff member — including Principal Gary Steyer, the secretarial staff and anyone else working in the building — also sets aside their work for those 14 minutes to read for pleasure.
“We wanted to be a school system where you see a teacher reading. We’ve all read studies about how important it is for kids to see adults reading,” said Kelly Croy, director of innovation and instruction. “Gary makes a point to go to different classrooms so the kids see the principal reading.”
Scalf said the school has a “beautiful media center” filled with high-school level books, but the R.E.D. program needed engaging, multi-level books for struggling readers. Scalf and Diane Rosiar, also a resource intervention specialist at the school, researched high-interest/low-readability books that would appeal to high schoolers. Several of the books were purchased, along with advanced reading books, so that each classroom has about 25 new books. Croy helped secure funding for the books from the high school’s library fund.
“If it wasn’t for Kelly, we would have had a much harder time,” Scalf said.
Croy said the school is always happy to support its teachers and students, and he was grateful that Scalf and Rosiar went to such lengths to find interesting books with easy readability.
“The key is choice, and Lori worked hard to provide that,” Croy said.
Scalf and Croy are both thankful that Steyer supports the program so passionately that he built the 14-minute R.E.D. Block into the school schedule.
“He built it in between two classes because we did not want any teachers to give up teaching time,” Scalf said. “We have a full instructional day, and this is an equal part of that.”
Contact correspondent Sheri Trusty at email@example.com.