Urban or Rural, a Risk is a Risk

I have spent the majority of my professional career in education working in urban settings. This week I had the unique pleasure of working with a group of students in rural Georgia. This was my first extended opportunity to work in a rural system. They had had a geography lesson as part of their prep work about “The Study Lady” (that would be me) who was coming to work with them. Many just couldn't believe I was coming all the way from California to Georgia just to work with them. Little do they know, they taught me much.

While less linguistically diverse than the populations with which I usually work, they were another affirmation to my oft-cited premise that English-only students are also English learners.  The consistency of errors connected to regional English and lack of a well-built lexicon has fueled many thoughts on my part on what more must be done to improve educational outcomes. Why is it that our educational system resists teaching English as an explicit language to identified learners at-risk when the evidence that they need it is so compelling? This I learned simply by administering the TOWRE to some 30 children, none of whom spoke any language other than English.

Why is it that our educational system resists teaching English as an explicit language to identified learners at-risk when the evidence that they need it is so compelling?


If we judge cultural diversity merely by the color of one's skin, we miss the relevance of the many cultures our students bring to school. In that neck of the woods, if you will, there are only two colors: Black and White. Yet the cultural diversity, what distinguishes the children from the adults in the school community is socioeconomic status. Students' home culture was clearly evidenced in spoken language, mannerisms, and self-esteem. I cannot speak for the entire school community. My educator-to-educator interactions were few. I can say these children have, at minimum, three wonderful and concerned teachers in their lives. Adults who will make all the difference in their life trajectories. They are to be commended. 

PHOTO A Child without Education .jpg

The adults who made the wise decision to participate in the study have made a decision that will benefit their children in ways we may not ever imagine. What these children teach me over the course of the next seven months, I hope, will help change the life trajectories of untold children at-risk across this nation. Thanks in advance "C" Elementary School kids!

I wrote that in 2012. Recently at a conference on MTSS, I viewed a video from that learner verification study. It made me smile, even drew a tear or two, as I watched the video of my young learners engaged in personalized learning. (Yes, I claim them as mine.) 

After some digging, I managed to find my journaled thoughts from that first visit. It reminded me that while much has changed, much remains the same. 

My work with the study ended in the spring of 2013. The study’s fifth graders have now just finished their sophomore year of high school. Over the seven months that I studied them, I saw tremendous (statistically significant) growth in their vocabulary and reading scores. More importantly, I saw the lights come on when they experienced success for the first time in their academic career. I saw their trepidation turn to elation as they were able to engage in close reading of near- and on-grade-level text. 

One of my favorite moments... I administered the DIBELS ORF routinely every two weeks for progress monitoring. It was heartbreaking initially, then transitioned to simply painful. All of these learners were multiple years below grade level. One day, a young man, a fifth-grader, read with 100% accuracy. I will never forget the look on his face when I asked him if he knew what he had just done. He didn’t even realize he had his first perfect read. 

This child had terrible trauma in his life and had never experienced success in the classroom. In that moment, he recognized how much he was learning. His words “FLEX Literacy changed my life” are forever seared into my heart and my brain. 

As I venture on my #EquityWarrior path, this is just one story that compels me to work with every educational institution truly interested in providing for every student what s/he needs to be successful.