Kolaiah White looks comfortable in front of 75 fidgeting third-graders.
The cross-legged students tap their pencils against the gymnasium floor as she quiets the crowd with a hand stretched high above her head and a firm voice.
White, a University of Akron student, attended third grade at Case Elementary in 1996. On Thursday, she returned to hand out dictionaries to students whom experts and educators say are at a pivotal time in their education.
“It’s really important as teachers to make sure these children are on track,” said White, 25.
Fellow UA student Tyler Rex joined White to kick off the second year of the Dictionary Project, a joint venture between UA, Akron Public Schools and the Akron Rotary Club.
Over the next two weeks, a handful of UA students training to be teachers will distribute more than 1,600 dictionaries to every third-grader in the Akron district. The students are part of the university’s Akron Council of Education Students (ACES), a volunteer organization of professors and college students who promote community interaction and professional development for future educators.
The Akron Rotary Club donates the dictionaries as part of its charitable commitment to the community.
For some students, it’s the first book they have owned.
“We have a population that lives in poverty and they don’t have those books at home,” said Sharon Hill-Jones, principal at Case Elementary in West Akron. “It’s always exciting for them to have a tool that is theirs.”
Hill-Jones, as a school administrator, and White, as an education student, are at opposite ends of the educational spectrum, but both are paying close attention to state mandates and research that place an onus on teachers, families and schools to achieve child literacy by the end of the third grade.
By the end of the next school year, students who do not score at least 392 on the third-grade reading assessment will not advance. Analysis of Ohio Department of Education statistics shows that 17,079 third-graders statewide — 449 in Akron schools — scored below 392. Some of those students, including those on individualized education plans or who have learning disabilities, might be exempt from retention.
It’s “very critical” to ensure student success in the text-rich grades of middle and high school, Hill-Jones said.
“We want all the children to have the ability to read and succeed and be independent,” she said.
The students and community advocates will pass out dictionaries at 20 more schools across Akron from Monday through March 22.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.