Fruitvale’s Walk to Learn Program Revolutionizing Literacy Education

Tuesday May 14, 2024

In an ongoing effort to equip students with proficient reading and writing skills, a transformative program called Walk to Learn has taken root at the Fruitvale School District. It offers hope and tangible results amidst statistics revealing that roughly 60 percent of students across California, and nationwide, struggle to read on grade level.

The program was the vision of concerned educators at Columbia Elementary who grappled with the stark reality of underperformance in reading at the school prior to the pandemic.

The staff collectively expressed their desire to have a more systematic way to ensure the needs of all students were met, said District Superintendent Leslie Garrison.

Columbia’s Principal Dr. Angie Summers and her colleagues embarked on a quest for solutions, ultimately finding inspiration at neighboring Panama-Buena Vista Union School District. Witnessing firsthand the efficacy of a similar program at Louden Elementary, Summers returned to her school site armed with newfound knowledge and determination.

60 percent of students across California, and nationwide, struggle to read on grade level.

“I knew instantly when we visited that this is what we needed,” Summers said.

Columbia Elementary implemented a pilot program in 2019 featuring a highly individualized instructional model. From fluency and phonics to comprehension and writing, each aspect of literacy received tailored attention.

“We started adapting our instruction to meet the need,” Summers said. “We weren’t just following a textbook; we were following a system.”

The system has since been adopted district wide and is in its second full year of implementation post pandemic. It’s based on the Science of Reading, an approach backed by decades of research that underscores the significance of fostering a robust vocabulary and grasping phonics in aiding a children’s literacy development.

Discovery Elementary School kindergarten Teacher Sara Kreiser says in a traditional school setting, meeting the individual needs of all students can often be difficult due to their varying skill levels. 

“Walk to Learn changes that,” she said. “We are able to meet the children where they are and they are all able to feel success in reading and writing.”

The program is composed of four tiers — intensive, strategic, benchmark, and enrichment — and every day for close to an hour, students rotate between teachers to receive reading and writing instruction geared toward their specific level.

Students are assessed three times throughout the school year to determine placement, but the program is fluid. If a student excels in benchmark, for example, they might be moved to enrichment to challenge them a bit more, Kreiser said. Likewise, if a student struggles at a certain level, they can be moved down so more support can be provided.

“It’s been a game-changer,” Kreiser said. “We keep raising the bar, and they [our students] keep coming up and meeting it.” 

Superintendent Garrison attributes the program’s success to several factors. She says ample professional development and hiring a network of instructional aides to help facilitate small groups has been crucial. Staff commitment has made the difference.

“They have embraced something that isn’t easy,” Garrison said. “They have navigated this experience very well.”

Perhaps it is because the program is working. Graduating sixth graders, once plagued by reading struggles, now depart for junior high with upwards of 79 percent reading on grade level.

Garrison says that referrals for special education services are down too because the district now has a mechanism in place to address students’ needs before they need something more formal. 

“What we are seeing is that the whole tide is rising,” she said. “Our students are increasing their reading and literacy by leaps and bounds. It’s really exciting.”  

By Robert Meszaros

By Robert Meszaros

Rob Meszaros is Director of Communications for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, where he has served since 2012. In his role, Meszaros oversees media relations, internal and external communication strategies, publications, Marcom, branding, and multi-media content creation. Before joining KCSOS, Meszaros was the PIO for CSU Bakersfield and earlier worked for seven years at The Bakersfield Californian.