Nearly half of Howard School students scored below state average in literacy, but Howard principal Chris Earl has a plan for improvement.
And Reuben Lawrence, known as the Godfather of Howard School, wants to raise $50,000 to help.
An anonymous donor has already given Lawrence $25,000 to get the fundraiser started. Lawrence wants matching funds to ensure that the literacy program runs at least four years, from the time a freshman enters high school through graduation.
If students do well, he's pushing for the program to be funded and modeled in schools throughout the district.
Earl says he's already seen the program work at Dalewood Middle School.
Donations may be mailed to:
2500 S. Market St.
Chattanooga, TN 37408
Note “Literacy Program” in the memo line
Earl was principal there in 2012-13 when the school earned an average literacy score of Level 3 in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment.
But a year after implementation, Dalewood significantly exceeded state reading standards and scored a Level 5, the highest level available. The school scored a Level 5 again the year after that, says Earl.
He wants to start the same literacy program at Howard in January.
Instead of asking students to read books they don't like, the program provides software so students can read material interesting to them that's on their grade level.
And instead of the traditional method of increasing vocabulary by asking youth to write words and copy a definition, the new program gives students a thesaurus and asks them to define the word with a synonym and draw a picture to illustrate it.
"We've identified quite a few of our students who are behind grade level or have some kind of a deficiency in their reading with literacy," he says. So he and Lawrence "got together and started talking."
Getting all students reading on grade level was Earl's answer when Lawrence asked how the community could help the school.
Vision is nothing without action, says the principal.
Lawrence started writing letters seeking funds this fall, and people have already started donating, he says.
"Without reading, you're already three steps behind," says Lawrence.
Lawrence and Earl launched the fundraiser last month at Howard School. They're asking all Howard supporters to contribute.
Earl called two students to his office to celebrate the fundraising launch with Hamilton County School Board member Tiffanie Robinson.
Earl selected the students because they have the highest literacy scores in the school.
Andres Salas, a 17-year-old senior who wants to attend college and study political science, says reading helps him do well in other subjects.
Laila Smith, 16, says she hopes Earl's program works, but she questions why school administrators would purchase thesauruses when most students look up words online.
"So kids would think a thesaurus was kind of stupid considering that they had Google," she says.
Lawrence says his own four children wouldn't be successful as they are if someone had not helped them. So he wants to help others. He and other Friends of Howard members previously raised $100,000 for its band and another $75,000 for the school's library.
"I'm very fortunate to have people who believe in what I believe in and help me to be successful in helping Howard High School," he says.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.