With the help of a private donation, Castro Elementary School has begun a program aimed at improving the language skills young students who are struggling.
Shioupyn Shen and his wife, Sandy Wu, recently donated $22,000 to Castro to help the school provide more one-on-one reading instruction to first-, second- and third-graders who are reading below grade level.
Dr. Judy Crates, principal of Castro, said that helping children overcome reading problems at a young age is critical.
"Up until third grade you are learning to read," Crates explained. "After third grade you are reading to learn. If they don't know how to read by the end of third grade, they can't learn the curriculum from then on."
After a child matriculates from the primary grades -- first, second and third -- it becomes more difficult each year to play catch-up, she said. And because reading is essential to education -- "You need to be able to read before you can do word problems," she said -- falling behind in reading often proves disastrous for an academic career.
"The effort it takes on the part of the student and the staff to bring a fourth-grader who is far below basic back up to a basic reading level is very difficult," Crates said. "It is far easier to catch that child just as they are falling behind. And it is far more cost effective and far more productive."
Helping those who have fallen behind is not only advantageous for the lagging student, Crates said. It is also beneficial for the entire class. "It lifts the level of instruction for the entire classroom, because the teacher doesn't need to continuously pull kids out and teach concepts that were taught previously."
Crates has not hammered out all the details of how the program will work, but she said it will likely involve a combination of after-school and in-class programming, as well as special classes, where students will be pulled out of the regular class period on a regular basis to work on phonics and other language development skills, either individually or in smaller groups.
The program began over the April spring break, with what Crates called a "vacation school" -- two hours a day of concentrated reading and language skills over a five-day period. There will likely be more "vacation schools," she said.
"Reading is a practice-makes-perfect endeavor," Crates said.
A one-on-one approach is often needed to help kids learn, especially those living with parents who do not speak English fluently and who might not be able to point out a child's mistakes and correct them. "Every child is different and has personal hurdles they need to overcome to progress to the next reading level."
Sandy Wu, said that she had two children that attended schools in the Mountain View Whisman district, before she and her husband, Shioupyn Shen, moved their family to Saratoga.
Dr. Crates was the principal of Graham Middle School and Craig Goldman, the district's superintendent, was the principal of Huff Elementary School, when the couple's children were attending those two schools.
Wu called both Crates and Goldman "great educators" who are "devoted to education." As such, Wu said that she and her husband were very comfortable donating to the district.
The couple asked that their money be devoted to helping bring lagging students up to speed, because Wu said it would benefit the entire school as a whole as well as improve the lives of the children receiving individualized attention.
"My kids enjoy reading so much," Wu said, "and our whole family enjoys reading so much, we hope everybody will enjoy reading. We think that reading will really open up a whole world for the children."
The one-time donation will likely be spent by the end of next school year, Crates said, but that does not mean that it won't be valuable after that. Crates said the money gives her school some extra breathing room to try new things and that if the programs she implements yield results she may be able to allocate money from elsewhere in the school's budget to continue the programs indefinitely.
She certainly hopes the programs will be a success. "Reading improves thinking," Crates said, reiterating the value of developing strong language skills early in life. "That's how we learn to think about things -- by reading about them and thinking about them."