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Back to Feb. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 169 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS FEBRUARY 2000

Sounding Out Success
Phonics teacher wins national award
Pam Barret
Pam Barret
MURRIETA, CA - Teacher Pam Barret helps students at Tovashal Elementary School become avid readers by the end of the first grade with her immensely successful phonics instruction program. Armed with the skills necessary to decode progressively difficult words, her first-graders can read paragraphs of text by early spring that include words such as "determined," "ashamed," and "particularly." Last May, the Virginia-based National Right To Read Foundation (NRRF), a non-profit literacy group, recognized Mrs. Barret's success by naming her its 1998 Teacher of the Year. She was the only teacher honored with the prestigious award in 1998.

Pam's colleagues, friends and family surprised her with an awards ceremony at Tovashal on Nov. 17 following her students' annual Thanksgiving reading and song program. Sponsored by NRRF, the festivities were led by NRRF senior advisor Patrick Groff. A parade of public officials showed up to offer commendations, including State Representative and former education committee chairman Steve Baldwin, Murrieta Mayor Chuck Washington, Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster, and representatives of Governor Gray Davis (D), U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R), and State Sen. Ray Haynes (R-Riverside). California Eagle Forum's Sally Myers presented Pam with an Eagle Award on behalf of the national Eagle Forum.

Mrs. Barret credited parents and phonics for her students' reading prowess. "Our first graders are well on their way to becoming productive and informed citizens, thanks to the real success they are achieving through the use of systematic phonics instruction," she explained. "We use quality language arts materials such as Open Court, the Phonics Game (purchased by the Tovashal PTA), Phonics Pathways, and Phyllis Schlafly's First Reader."

Pam Barret pledges allegiance  with her class of high achievers.
Pam Barret pledges allegiance
with her class of high achievers.
In 1998, the California Board of Education approved new teaching guidelines for reading and math, including a return to phonics. Though not mandatory, the guidelines are used by public-school teachers, teaching colleges and textbook publishers in devising teaching methods. The new guidelines replaced a 1988 plan that had made "Whole Language" - teaching children to guess at words from pictures and context - the preferred method of reading instruction. Many educators and parents blamed the subsequent drop in California students' test scores on the use of Whole Language.

By December 1999, opposition to phonics had dwindled. The criteria for textbook adoption in California for language arts in 2002 will require that 75% of the words be "decodable," that is, the text must use letters and sounds students have already learned through phonics instruction. "Sight" words in the books must have been previously introduced, preferably no more than one per day.

According to her admirers, no teacher could be more dedicated to teaching phonics than Pam Barret. In his column in The Californian newspaper of Dec. 4, former teacher and principal Gene Vitamanti wrote: "Based on my 34 years in education, I can say that Pam Barret is truly one of the finest teachers I have ever seen. Phonics is her cornerstone and she refuses to accept any student not reading at least to grade level, but she always aims higher and most of her kids achieve at a higher level." He noted that she is a strong believer in the basics and that, "In addition to the three Rs, she emphasizes music, art, manners, fun, and morality."

A mother of five children of her own, Pam says her greatest satisfaction comes from knowing that students leave her classroom able to read. "Many schools still demonstrate the mentality that first graders can't start learning to read until the second semester," she says. "So much time is lost, and it's such a disservice to the children, some of whom may need lots of practice with sounds and blends before they really learn them."

She adds: "We're fortunate that at Tovashal, the parents, the administrators, led by our principal, Chuck Jones, and assistant principal, Terry Olson, and the faculty, including the wonderful first-grade teachers I work with, Lucy Blumenshine, Jenelle Eady, Jean Faulk, Cindy Dimler, and Karen Harris, are absolutely committed to literacy."



 
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