School board hopes to Fast ForWord student learning

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By Ada Lang

Tuesday morning’s Levy County School Board meeting began with members doubting what they were hearing and ended with a unanimous vote to move forward on a new program aimed at improving reading skills by exercising the brains of students.

Superintendent Bob Hastings said Levy County students are not reading at the state average in any grade despite having reading coaches at every school and the implementation of a variety of remedial programs.

“We have got to do something different,” he said. 

Mark Miller and Dave Cox, representatives from Fast ForWord by Scientific Learning, a company that develops educational programs, were at the meeting and said they had a solution to the problem. One of the company's FastForWord reading programs has been shown to enhance memory, attention and problem solving abilities, the representatives explained. Traditional methods focus only on vocabulary, comprehension and reading. FastForWard, according to a study done by the company, makes it possible for students to gain one to two grade levels in reading in eight to 12 weeks, on average.

"It changes the pathways in the brain," said Patrick Wnek, the school system’s director of curriculum.

Hastings told the board he believes the program would compliment and enhance other programs already in place. 

“I believe with all my heart that if there is anyway to help our students, this is the program to do it.” 

Federal money would pay for about half of the $277,000 program, Hastings said, though funding is expected to be cut at the end of the month. The rest would come from vouchers from Microsoft. The only additional hardware needed might be some servers at about $4,000 each.

Parents, teachers and administrators will be able to attend a workshop that will demonstrate the system. Students in the program will go through the 8-12 week training, 4-5 days a week, for 30-50 minutes. They will be tested at the beginning of the program, monitored throughout and tested at the end. 

More information can be found at: www.scilearn.com.