RIVIERA BEACH – Sam Brown, at 44 years of age, is back in school. But he is not there to get a certificate. He’s in school because of his 15-year-old son Nicholas and a controversial reading program that’s made it mandatory for him and his son to attend together.
Emma Banks, principal of Inlet Grove Community High School, a charter school in Riviera Beach, has made it compulsory for students with low reading scores to attend classes two Saturdays each month to increase their reading skills. A parent must accompany the child or the student will be asked to go to his or her home school.
“If they don’t come, it shows they are not really interested in their education and there’s no point in them being here,” Banks said on Saturday morning, the first day of her Parent and Student Reading Program. “I’m going to ask the student to leave. Why waste their time?”
But she expects to seldom have to ask someone to leave. Parents who have to work on Saturdays are excused but in those cases they have to come at least one night during the week. “We’re not making them. We’re telling them what we’re going to do. They can take it or leave it,” she said. “This is a calling I’ve taken upon myself before I leave this earth, because I know they can be successful.”
Banks said reading is the only area her school is having trouble with in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The students who have been selected for the program are those who have scores in the lowest percentile on the FCAT. “I like taking those kids who are challenging and turning them around,” Banks said.
The program has a two-fold purpose: dealing with student literacy and increasing parental involvement. “Students whose parents are involved in their education do much better,” Bank said.
There is an upside to doing well in the reading program. Students whose FCAT scores increase will receive a $1,000 college scholarship. “Every student that attends this school will go to college,” Banks said, addressing the group gathered on Saturday. “We’re going to try to even get them four-year scholarships.”
The program has certified reading teachers and there are interpreters for parents who do not speak English.
Some 124 students are on the remedial reading list and about 40 students and 35 parents showed up for the first session. Banks said she was calling to find out why the others did not turn out.
Overall, parents like Bank’s idea and her attempts to boost their children’s reading levels. But they believe expelling a child from the school because a parent doesn’t show up is a bit harsh.
“That’s rough because not every parent can make it,” Brown said. “I don’t know if she would actually put the child out of the school but she’s put that out there. It’s a sacrifice but, if it’s for education, I’m all for it.”
Brown, who said he enjoyed the first session with Nicholas, said he would have preferred parents having to come one or two times and then the students come alone.
He said he’s known about his child’s reading challenges for a couple of years. His son lives with him and he received a letter notifying him of the program. “I’ll be to every one of the sessions,” he said.
Clover Smith, 61, attended with her 17-year-old granddaughter Makayla Fields. Makayla’s mother herself is in school, so she asked the grandmother to accompany her granddaughter.
“I think it’s a decent policy,” Smith said. “It should make the students want to try harder.” But, like Brown, she doesn’t agree with a student being kicked out of the school because a parent is absent.
Smith said judging from what she saw at the first session, the program was desperately needed. “I was shocked at the reading level of the students during the session,” she said. “Their reading level was poor. I don’t know how typical that is but, hopefully, this will help them engage more.”
Brown, too, said he noticed that more of the parents were involved in the reading discussions than were the students. “The parents were answering most of the questions,” he said.
The teachers, however, insisted that students answer the questions. Overall, though, Brown said, the teachers kept the three-hour session interesting.
“I think it’s going to be very beneficial for my granddaughter,” Smith said. Kemia Lockhart, the assistant principal whom Banks credits with implementing the program, said the first session went well. The program runs through next Spring, just in time for FCAT testing. Banks is expecting to see a change by then.
Daphne Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Picture above is Sam Brown and his son Nicholas.