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Building a culture of literacy: 500 million words and counting

October 11, 2023
By Sully Barrett


That’s how many words Rocky Mountain Prep students have read since the school year began. It’s also the equivalent of reading the entire Harry Potter series — all seven books — more than 480 times.

Schools have started the year off strong, building a culture around literacy. According to Sarah Beth Bliss, RMP Westwood’s assistant principal of instruction, students are filling their free time with reading. “If a student is done with their classwork early, they are reading. If a student is waiting in the office, they are reading. We have students reading in all places and spaces.” The result, she said, is a palpable energy around reading.

It’s that energy that has lit the fire for students working toward their reading goals. So, since October is National Book Month, let’s celebrate how literacy has taken off at RMP in the first quarter of the school year!

The Elephants at RMP Ruby Hill have created a culture of friendly competition around reading. In their Battle of the Books, third- through fifth-grade classes vie for bragging rights by out-reading the other classes in their grade. Each Friday, students get an update on the data: which classes are winning, which need to pick up the pace, and who receives shoutouts for a particularly excellent week of reading.

Not to be outdone, Principal McKee has led by example. He recorded a read-aloud for students to watch at home on ClassDojo to encourage listening comprehension in addition to visual reading.

It’s unlikely you’ll find any room at RMP Federal that doesn’t have at least a few books. “Reading plays a role in every aspect of our school,” said Mercedes Dahlman, assistant principal of instruction. On every classroom door, teachers post what they’re currently reading and what books they recommend. Students' books travel with them throughout their day, and teachers are always excited to find students reading in every spare moment.

At RMP Westwood, Bliss said, focusing on literacy has recentered its importance “as a mission of, and for, equity.” If students want to read a specific book that’s not at school, staff will make sure they get that book on hand — no matter what. Students and staff share conversations about books every day, trading recommendations and offering feedback with excitement.

“It is that energy,” Bliss said, “that is the fruit of our focus and what we are really after in doing this work. We want to create reader leaders.”

The first RMP student to meet their millionaire goal was fifth-grader Kiruvel at RMP Creekside. His achievement was an incredibly impactful moment for the school, and it kicked off the momentum for other students to speed toward their goals. Kiruvel, who was featured in a CBS Colorado news story, showed everyone — even Governor Polis! — what’s possible when you create passion for reading.

RMP Sunnyside showed concrete examples of how reading can be a tool of equity for all students by having access to the same books and the same goals. Seventh-graders Braulio and Sebastian, for whom English is a second language, have each read 2 million English words and counting this year.

Braulio said his favorite book so far is Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway because it’s funny and cool. “Also,” he said, “my mom is encouraging me to get my ‘words up’ and not my ‘funny up.’”

Sebastian said achieving his millionaire goal has helped him grow as a writer.

With all that’s been achieved just in the first quarter of the school year, the sky is the limit for all RMP students to reach their goals. As Alyssa Montaño, assistant principal of instruction at RMP Sunnyside, says:

“Literacy is access. Literacy is knowledge. Literacy is power.”


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