CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Middle school students attending Department of Defense Dependent Schools throughout the Pacific will have an opportunity this year to learn a skill so basic and vital, it almost certainly could change the rest of their lives.

Patricia Adkins, now a Kadena High School sophomore, acquired the skill last year through a new computer-assisted reading program that taught her to read in a way that helps her understand and remember what she read.

She took Read 180, offered in DODDS Pacific high schools last year. The program was so successful that it’s being implemented this year in the region’s middle schools as well, said DODDS Pacific officials.

“I like the computers, because it makes it interesting,” said Adkins, who recalled that reading even easy books used to be tough. But with the new program, “you don’t just have to sit at a desk and read boring stuff all day long. I don’t read as much as I’m supposed to, but when I read, at least I understand what I’m reading.”

Were it not for Read 180, she said, she’d probably still be reading at middle school level.

And she wouldn’t be alone. In 1998, 69 percent of fourth-graders were less than proficient in reading, according to data from National Assessment of Educational Progress research.

Read 180, sold by Scholastic Inc., is aimed at just such pupils, who reach higher grades reading “below their grade level,” said Sarah McKinney, DODDS Pacific secondary English language arts specialist. “The students also receive skills and tools to be successful in different classes — like comprehension, listening skills, vocabulary development and critical-thinking skills.”

Kadena and other DODDS Pacific high schools began offering the program, which is strictly voluntary, last school year.

“I had two students who read about 20 books last year, and they were really excited, because they had never really read before,” said Margie Brogle, reading specialist and Read 180 teacher at the high school.

“I had one student who came into the program failing English and she ended the year with a B.”

Each Read 180 class at Kadena has 15 students who work in groups of five. Each 90-minute class period has three sections or stations; the groups spend 25 minutes on each section, Brogle said.

At the first station, each student gets reading instruction at a computer with the Read 180 software. Students first watch a video about a topic, then read about it aloud. The students then read into a microphone and finish each session answering vocabulary and comprehension questions. Brogle can log onto her computer to see each student’s progress — and which areas need more work.

At the second station, students chose audio books, which let them read materials beyond their normal skill levels.

The audio books have two voices: a narrator who reads, while a student follows along in a copy of the book, and a reading coach who helps the student with comprehension, vocabulary and other reading skills.

In the third station, students have a small-group discussion — and get individualized support and instruction, Brogle said.

She said she also begins each class by reading to her students for 10 minutes, because listening to a live person read also is important for them.

Brogle said all reading materials used in the program are chosen to be of high interest to students but not unduly complicated — a combination aimed at keeping them interested. She ends each class with a five-minute debriefing, in which students can ask questions or discuss what they did during that session.

After students read a book, they take a quiz. They must pass the quiz to accumulate points and are given certificates to mark accumulating 25 points. Students can take each quiz up to three times to pass.

“By the end of the course, most students read between six and eight books,” said Brogle. “Most of them will have read none the year before.”

Brogle said her goal is for students to think of her class not as make-up work but as one of their favorites.

McKinney echoed that thought, saying, “We look at it as a tool for success. … We’re giving the students the skills to achieve in all classes.”

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