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Sounding the Bell for reading

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
When asked recently about Huxford Elementary School's good scores on the reading portion of the statewide assessment tests, Principal Betty Warren was quick to lay the schools success at the feet of its reading coach, Gail Bell.
Bell was one of the inaugural class of reading coaches in the state in a program that has been adopted and modified for use in other states, notably Massachusetts.
The Alabama Reading Initiative has as its goal to improve reading instruction and achieve 100 percent literacy among students. It provides teachers with training to help them teach in effective ways.
Bell has been teaching for more than 10 years. She decided to teach when her son was small and she saw how important to him his teachers were.
"I enjoy the children too much to go into administration," she said. Now she teaches children half a day and teaches other teachers to teach reading half a day.
Bell said the reading initiative took off six years ago, and she applied for a position as reading specialist. Huxford was accepted into the pilot program and the whole faculty went to training for two weeks over the summer.
"I feel blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of the program," she said.
To implement the program, she meets with other teachers once a month to learn and share what is working when teaching reading. Then she brings it back to the school and teaches it to other teachers.
"It teaches what research says will work, but the teachers adapt that to what they need. We can break it out for small groups, and teach what they need help with," Bell said.
The concept spills over into other subjects, once a teacher learns how to teach by this method, Bell said.
"We want them to be able to read, but also to be able to think. We don't know what kind of job they will have but we want them to be ready for it. We want them to be able to read whatever they want to read," she said.
And she believes that reading is the cornerstone of most learning a child will do.
"We like to say that in kindergarten through second grade, a child is learning to read. After that, he is reading to learn," she said. That means a child already knows what a word is, but then is able to put it together to get the meaning of it in relation to the words and story around it.
Bell likens the program to building a plane while flying it. The teachers coach each other, watch each other to learn what works in the classroom.
"We have a good faculty and a good staff, and we know what is working, and what is not," Bell said.
Ultimately, though, she gives the credit back to Warren.
"One of the most important things we get is leadership from Ms. Warren. She is the ultimate word in what we implement," she said.
Warren seems to think a lot of Bell, too.
"I wouldn't take 30 cents for her," she laughed. "And it is unusual for me to go much over 15 for anybody."