Amanda Simmons
amanda@bossierpress.com

Children around age eight are expected to make an important transition in their education — from learning-to-read in second grade to reading-to-learn by third grade.
Those who complete the shift have a much greater chance of continued success in school. Yet, many children in Northwest Louisiana are missing this milestone.
About 2,000 children in this area do not meet the basic criteria in English for a student finishing third grade, according to a report by The Community Foundation. At an increase of 1 percent per year, they say northwest Louisiana can reach 70 percent proficiency by 2020, requiring 58 additional third graders to be at basic level (or above) each year.

A Bossier City school has become the model for that plan’s success. Plantation Park Elementary has made great strides since implementing the foundation’s Step Forward program three years ago and continues moving in the right direction.
Last year, 82 percent of the students involved in Step Forward scored basic or better on the LEAP test and 63 percent of the entire third grade population scored basic or better, which was an improvement.

Principal Tonya Hilburn said the literacy initiative wouldn’t be successful without the Step Forward program, its volunteers and the community support.
“Our community is invested in this school,” Hilburn said. “They have come to us with open arms and have truly embraced our students. I truly think that has made a big difference. Everybody is in this together.”

Students meet once a week for 30 minutes with a volunteer. Each volunteer assists six students a week. Vanessa Powers, Instructional Coach at Plantation Park, said students were chosen for the program because they needed a little extra help getting out of the “middle of the road.” “They are so close to where they need to be and need that little extra push to get there,” she explained. “We are so grateful for this program.”

The work doesn’t stop here though. Plantation Park’s mission is to take their students from learning their ABCs to receiving college degrees. “We want our students to always strive for better,” Powers said. “We want them to go to college…many of them would be first generation college students, but we know they can do it and we’re committed to helping them get there.”

Step Forward is a catalyst for working together across sectors and geographical lines to prepare the students of Bossier, Caddo and DeSoto Parishes for academic achievement, productive citizenship and global competitiveness, from cradle to career. It exists to create a civic infrastructure that align and supports the myriad efforts to drive excellence in education locally.

Step Forward aims to find what works and do more of it. Laura Alderman, Executive Director Step Forward, said by using data to understand the problem, the Step Forward partnerships work to develop solutions designed to improve outcomes.
For more information, visit www.stepforwardnla.org.

Photo by: Amanda Simmons/Press-Tribune

Plantation Park Elementary third graders Liliana Moreno (right), Sha’Kayla Kennon (middle), and Joseph Thrash (left) work with retired educator and volunteer Jeanette Bange on literacy improvement as part of the school’s involvement with Step Forward.