One of the largest school districts in Georgia is turning its bus drivers into teachers who command “rolling classrooms.”
The drivers are helping to teach elementary school students sight words through a new program that began this year in the Fulton County school district.
Sight words are words like “the” and “you,” words that you can’t easily sound out and young children are encouraged to memorize.
“What we want is to be considered a true part of the school system,” said Vickie Cross, the district’s director of transportation operations who came up with the idea.
The program aligns with the district’s goal that all 3rd graders be able to recognize 250 to 300 sight words and read on grade level.
“If you can’t read, you can’t succeed,” said Cross.
Through the program, a new sight word is introduced on the bus each week. The word is printed on a magnetic sign that goes up at the front of the bus. After the week is over the word goes on the ceiling of the bus and another word takes its place at the front. The words will get increasingly difficult each week and are divided into three 12-week periods.
Cross says her granddaughter introduced her to the idea of sight words last fall when she was reading her a goodnight story. Cross was surprised that the girl knew so many of the words, and she says the kindergartner told her it was because they were sight words.
This started Cross on a quest to learn more about sight words and how she could help other kids learn them. She reached out to High Point Elementary Principal Carrie Pitchford for help, and Pitchford provided her with information that she used to develop the program.
The pilot program began at four elementary schools this school year including High Point Elementary in Sandy Springs, a city about 16 miles north of Atlanta.
“The more exposure we can give our kids the better,” said Pitchford. “It can do nothing but help.”
About 20 percent of the students at her school are learning English as a second language, and Pitchford says visuals such as the magnetic signs are good learning tools for them.
By all accounts, the bus drivers have really embraced the program. Pitchford says some of them have made up songs about the words and others ask students to use them in a sentence before getting on and off the bus, which helps to keep older elementary students who should already know the words engaged.
In addition to placing the sight words in their school buses, the participating schools are also hanging up the words in their cafeterias to give students even more exposure to what Pitchford calls the “basis of reading.”
“You just have to learn them,” said Pitchford. “You can’t use a strategy. You can’t use a skill to be able to break it down. It’s just memorization. The more sight words you know, then the more that you can actually start to understand stories, the more that you can read.”
The transportation department spent $1.30 per magnetic sign to fund the program, which came out of its existing budget.
In November, the pilot program is set to expand to all 55 elementary schools in the district. Each elementary school requires an average of eight to 10 buses to transport students.
Photo: Students sit on a school bus at Mimosa Elementary in Roswell, Ga. Courtesy Fulton County School District.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.