The morning bell will soon be ringing at Samuel Staples Elementary School as summer vacation draws to a close and students and faculty alike prepare for the new year. 

A new year means new faces and new programs as incoming students and faculty will get their first look at the Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts, a new comprehensive early literacy curriculum the school will be piloting. The new language arts curriculum is grounded in the science of reading and aligns with the state of Connecticut’s Right to Read Legislation.

Right To Read, which was passed in 2021, systematizes a statewide reading response — based on the science of reading — by requiring the state to oversee all state and local efforts related to literacy. It includes setting reading curriculum requirements for districts, providing professional development, hiring external literacy coaches and coordinating with teacher preparation programs.

“In the state of Connecticut, we had to change our reading programs so that it is aligned with the science of reading,” said Staples Principal Kimberly Fox Santora. “In the 2022-23 school year we put together a committee comprised of reading coaches, the people in Easton and Redding who had the most professional development and have the highest credentials on the college level, along with looking at what publishers have come up with that is aligned with the science of reading. Then we went to districts that were using what we had previewed.”

Principal Kimberly Fox Santora says the new Amplify curriculum will improve students’ reading skills.Photo by Rick Falco

The answer, it seems, is the Amplify curriculum. The model is based on having full daily lessons that build foundational reading skills, as well as full daily lessons that build background knowledge to help students actually understand what they are reading.

Fox Santora said that a standout feature of the Amplify curriculum that makes it appealing is that it is deeply connected to the social studies and science units, especially at the older levels.

This is a departure from the previous workshop model that Staples had been using in years past. The workshop model was a system developed by Columbia Teacher’s College and was focused around an “I Do, We Do, You Do” methodology of teaching. Teachers would present the subject of the lesson, work through it with the students together and then let them go do an assignment on their own. 

The workshop model has been the standard at Staples for many years, but according to Fox Santora, the model is not research-based and does not emphasize phonemic awareness or phonics. 

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words, and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds.

“The science and research have proven that as kids in the last 10 or 15 years moved away from phonemic awareness, their ability to read and sound out complex language and words have diminished,” said Fox Santora.

The introduction of the Amplify curriculum is a return to teaching phonemic awareness and phonics. It seeks to bring about positive changes to how students learn reading and writing skills at Staples.

When Right To Read was passed, the large-scale overhauls that it required were not built into the budget of any of the school districts in the state. This includes the Easton-Redding Region 9 district. Staples was given the option to pilot the new program instead of adding a more significant budget expense.

The Amplify curriculum will be introduced in one or two units so that the school can decide if it is the program that works best for its students. This will include professional development for teachers as they adjust to the new teaching methods.

“We’ve known about the legislation for a while, and we have trained the teachers on the difference between former practices and current best practices,” said Fox Santora. “I will say there isn’t a single teacher who will disagree that these are the best practices.”

In anticipation of the changes to come, Staples teachers began making the shift from the workshop model to a phonemic awareness approach. According to Fox Santora, data has shown that students experienced notable growth in their reading levels last year.

“I’ll tell you, after all these years there isn’t a single program that’s perfect — not in reading, not in writing, not in math, but we think that between the training that we’re going to get in August… [and] the expertise of the coaches, we think we’ll have a really good solid experience figuring out if this is going to be the right program for our district.”

Aiding in the transition at Staples will be eight new incoming teachers for the 2023-24 school year including for preK-3, kindergarten, fifth grade, music, physical education and special education. 

The school psychologist has also been reassigned to Helen Keller Middle School, so there will be a new faculty member filling in that position as well. The interview process for a new school psychologist is ongoing.

See below for a full list of new faculty members:

  • Pre-K to grade 3: Susan McCloat
  • Kindergarten: Samantha Dunn
  • Grade 5: Diana Posillico
  • Music: Olivia Dallape
  • Music: Anastasia Miller
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