COLUMBIA — Tierney Baumstark sat in small red rocking chair at the Neil C. Aslin Administration Building on Wednesday morning, eyes transfixed on the glowing screen in her hands.
A book in a series of child-friendly Greek myths called "Have a Hot Time, Hades!" was displayed on the iPad screen. An audio version of the book played from its speakers.
"This is the new model of the future," Superintendent Chris Belcher said.
Columbia Public Schools announced a new program Wednesday called iRead. Every 4-year-old child who lives within district boundaries and will be enrolled in a district kindergarten will now have access to MyON Reader, an online database of more than 2,000 books. The database is accessible from a Web browser or through a MyON Reader app, allowing access for students in and out of school.
iRead is an expansion of a program started two years ago at Parkade and Blue Ridge elementary schools. Belcher said MyON Reader is like Amazon, a popular website for buying books and other items, but for children. Students with passwords to the program can read and rank books, and the program will then suggest different titles based upon the students' reading level and interests.
The district spent $5,000 to fund the program and hopes to expand the program to all students up to kindergarten age in July.
"We know that the No. 1 component to predict success of a student is their ability to read at grade level in third grade and their ability to be at grade level in kindergarten," Belcher said. "Students start to form opinions about their own work and their own competence if they’re not on the same grade level."
Students can see the definitions of unfamiliar words with the online database's interface. Audio versions of the books are also available for students to supplement their reading.
Columbia Public Schools Lead Media Specialist Kerry Townsend said the clickable text is a good way for her daughter, who is almost 4 years old, to read books that are slightly outside of her reading level.
"Clair has some independence and she likes to do it herself," Townsend said. "This allows her to do that; the support of the product reading it to you, showing exactly where it is in the text."
Belcher said by the end of the year, every school within the district will have wireless Internet, which will change the way teachers integrate reading into their curriculum.
"No longer do we have to say 'line up, let’s go to the computer lab' and you get 35 minutes a week," Belcher said. "It’s just become a contrived model."
Teachers have the ability with MyON Reader to see how often their students are reading and can set up quizzes to assess students' reading comprehension. Belcher said this will allow the district to assess the reading levels at each school and enable teachers to tailor their curriculum to classroom needs.
Non-fiction texts will be emphasized with the iRead program. Seventy percent of the books available through MyON Reader are non-fiction.
"Our kids get fiction and we teach it very well, but we need to get more into that technical reading and writing model," Belcher said.
To get a login password, parents can go to the children’s desk at Columbia Public Library, the district's website, the Parents As Teachers office or their child's early childhood teacher, Townsend said.
"We know we can't bring all students into a building and start them in school at 1 year of age," Belcher said. "So we have to start thinking about what resources all parents need to have access to."
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