When Ubaldo Javier Fernandez started school at Singleterry Elementary for the first time last year, he knew only Spanish. Now, almost everything the 6-year-old first grader says is in English.
Donna Independent School District administrators attribute much of Fernandez’ success learning the English language to a literacy curriculum called Sing, Spell, Read and Write (SSRW). The program is geared for students in grades Pre-K to 2. It consists of a 36-step system of carefully sequenced instruction that combines music and multimodal teaching strategies that were developed and classroom tested.
Fernandez’s mother Miriam Arenas said she has seen a big difference in how her child communicates. “Spanish is my first language so when I communicate with my son, I usually speak to him in Spanish,” Arenas said. “Instead of replying to me in Spanish, he’ll respond in English. That’s one thing I’ve noticed.”
Arenas said she also noticed that her son enjoys reading more. “I see the excitement in him,” Arenas added. “We go to the library and he gets excited. He says ‘mom let’s go get some books’ and he picks books that are in English.”
Experts say SSRW reaches every avenue to the brain by using phonics songs, interactive charts and games to teach the alphabetic principle, phonemic awareness, sound/letter correspondence, short vowel sounds, and blending — in a fun and meaningful way. Singleterry Elementary Principal Christopher Park said his campus has seen great success with the program.
“Sing, Spell, Read and Write has definitely been a great addition to our already adopted curriculum for Pre-K to 2,” Park said. “I think it has brought some structure for our teachers who may not be so familiar with the teaching of reading. With this program, our teachers have been able to teach phonics in a systematic way and gotten our students to progress on a timely manner.”
Park said his campus also offers the program to older students who are immigrants. “We are even using this program in our 3-5 grades with our recent immigrants to help them read at a more rapid rate along with solid English language development and vocabulary embedded in their lessons daily.”
SSRW was initially implemented at some Donna ISD campuses several years ago but was dropped from the curriculum. Today, the program is in place at all 14 elementary schools, a move prompted by Donna ISD Superintendent Fernando Castillo. Castillo said he believes wholeheartedly in the program and how it can help a child struggling to learn how to speak English. He knows first-hand because he was one of those students many years ago.
“Growing up as Spanish being my first and only language, it was very difficult to understand much less grasp the English language,” Castillo said. “However, I recall my first grade teacher utilizing her own version of what I would say is synonymous to the Sing, Spell, Read and Write program because she would incorporate songs and rhythm for the alphabet and the vowels. That helped me with the fundamentals of how to read and write.”