PEP’s New ELA Curriculum: Teacher Perspectives
PEP’s Perspective on Literacy
At PEP, we take literacy seriously. We know that reading is a critical skill for successfully navigating the modern world and that it’s a pathway to success. Here’s how PEP’s CEO Habeebah R. Grimes described it in a February 2022 blog post entitled, “Invoking Courage to Make Literacy Accessible for Everyone.”
The ability to read is essential to human well-being, and in PEP’s Day Treatment Centers, we are charged with either explicitly teaching reading skills or helping kids learn to interpret written language to the height of their cognitive abilities. In PEP’s other programs, we implicitly work to help kids acquire and sustain capacity to learn these skills. When we say reading is fundamental, it’s not a cliché. We know firsthand that when kids’ reading abilities lag far behind their perceived or actual adaptive skills (e.g., self-care, communication, etc.), they experience much lower quality of life and social outcomes than we would hope.
PEP’s New ELA Curriculum
This core belief is why, when the opportunity arose through a special grant from KeyBank, PEP purchased a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum for the agency. Teachers in K-12 began using it this school year.
Though there were many reasons we selected the curriculums we did, (Wit & Wisdom for K-8 and CommonLit 360 for 9-12) one of the most important was the high scores they received on the Culturally Responsive Scorecard. This tool, developed by New York University, assesses representation, diversity of characters, diversity of authors, social justice and usability of materials.
Ensuring representation in literacy is essential at PEP (and should be in every school!) As Grimes explained in her 2022 blog post, “Today we know that combatting our nation’s history of anti-literacy laws, policies and practices requires that we make books available to every child so they grow up in text-rich environments that set the foundation for learning to read. We know that when kids have access to books with narratives that they can relate to, telling the stories of people who share their racial, ethnic and cultural identities, they are more likely to want to engage with these books. And thanks to PEP’s bibliotherapy program, we know that kids can begin to make some sense of their lives and the adversity they’ve experienced when books have relatable plots and trusted adults are present to support their engagement.”
How it’s Going: Teacher Perspectives
With a good portion of the school year behind us and plenty of time to have seen its impact, we thought it would be valuable to ask teachers how it’s going with the new curriculum. We talked to three teachers in three grade bands to see what they thought, Tawnya Snyder, K-2 at PEP Willow Creek; Kara Prevo, middle school at PEP Eastwood; and Hope Anne Wohlers, high school at PEP Hopewell.
Q: What do you like about the new curriculum?
Snyder: My favorite thing about the curriculum is how high quality literature is interwoven with cross-curricular concepts. For example, in the Grade 2 module “A Season of Change,” we covered science, social studies, reading, writing and art.
Prevo: I like that there’s some guidance for teachers. It’s very adaptable. If there is a student who is struggling, it’s easy to differeniate it for them. It makes it easy for all levels to have access, without having to do a completely different lesson.
Wohlers: I like that it has themes like understanding ourselves and our behaviors. It helps connect with social emotional lessons that are so critical for our kids. I also like that the online version is so easy with scaffolding lessons.
Q: Do the students relate to the characters and stories?
Snyder: My kids love the stories and the art work that accompanies them. Specific activities they really like include reader’s theater and working with partners on any activity.
Prevo: Yes. The book we’re reading now is about a boy who has ADHD and is scatterbrained. He daydreams a lot and they can relate. They are engaged when we are reading it. We also spent a long time on another lesson about Native Americans. They found it interesting that they shared many of the same values as the people in the tribe.
Wohlers: My kids particularly like when we read about an individual. I can use the resources in the curriculum to target specific issues I know they are dealing with. We recently read a story about a girl who experienced sexism in a summer job. The boys in the class could see how race doesn’t monopolize the struggle. Another good example of kids relating to the literature occurred when we read a story about orphans who faced neglect. One of the orphans in the story said something like, “I’d rather them beat me because that’s how I know love.” One student reflected on that sentiment and commented that he could relate. He said he knew that was what was behind his “behavior problems.”
Q: What else would you want people to know about this curriculum?
Snyder: The activities are challenging enough to encourage student growth and every student can participate. I like that the stories are engaging and well-written and offer varying perspectives and cultural viewpoints.
Prevo: It approaches teaching reading in a different way. It goes more to the “why.” It encourages complex critical thinking.
Wohlers: I see the curriculum making a difference for my kids. Not only are they connecting with it, but they are also writing a lot more than before, even in other classes. We have been able to connect reading and writing and there’s just more buy-in from the kids.
PEP is proud to provide resources and materials that promote academic success among our students. We are grateful to all of PEP’s ELA teachers who worked hard to launch this new curriculum this year. We are also grateful to KeyBank for their generous grant funding, which made this important initiative possible.
To learn more about PEP’s new ELA curriculum or to learn more about PEP’s Day Treatment Centers, visit our website. Contact Nicole Molnar, clinical coordinator, at 216-361-7760 ext. 110 or via email to see if a student in your district may be a good fit.
Please note, referrals are made through school districts. Interested parents or caregivers should contact their school administrator.