Walking into my old elementary school nothing seemed the same. Not only were my memories of the brand new building gone but also so was the shiny appearance it once held. The school has not only changed in the physical sense, the student population has also completely transformed. A school that was once largely upper middle class kids is now filled with students on free or reduced lunch who have no support at home. Even in my mom’s kindergarten classroom it is easy to separate the haves from the have-nots. Kindergarten has not changed much from the constant chaos, but amidst it all learning is much further pushed. As I first run an activity with small groups, the focus was not only on being able to read their worksheet but also to comprehend what was on it in order to answer the questions. While some kids blew threw it answering comparison questions such as “the ice cream is white as ______” (yes we were also giving these children ice cream before their 10:15 lunch period), others could not even distinguish the line that they were to write their names on. This wide range of reading levels came out again later in the day. Reading to larger groups, those who had been able to read and comprehend the worksheet earlier in the morning were more engaged and interested in the small books I read to them while the others got distracted and were disinterested.
While I knew I would witness this discrepancy in the schools, I was saddened to see how early the gap starts. These kids are already being funneled into reading level groups, which will allow those with already high levels to escalate quickly while those who are struggling may feed off of each other, and only minimally build on their reading level. It is a sad cycle that creates a widening gap as kids escalate through the grades. Many teachers are working to minimize this. One method that they do at the elementary school where my mom works involves volunteers coming in and reading one on one with kids in the lower reading groups. I was able to get involved with this at the end of the day. By reading with a few of the kids I was able to help them sound out words and work through what they don’t know while also creating a dialogue about what we were reading. Obviously kindergarteners are not reading or having read to them such complex books that there are intense things to be learned. Nonetheless, I believe the personal read along that we did do will help these lower level kids to push through in the future and hopefully continue reaching beyond their reading level in order to lesson the gap between themselves and some of their more well off classmates.