The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - 77

Toward a Literate
Roanoke Valley

Salem schoolchildren
prepare for a fun reading
session.

The school system and Blue Ridge Literacy put a heavy
emphasis on citizens' ability to read.
written and photographed by
DAN SMITH

I

N 2008, THE CITY OF ROANOKE was smacked
between the eyes with the embarrassing revelation that
just 59 percent of its students would graduate. That was
more than a wake-up call; it was a shock to the system,
one that could not be ignored.
Exacerbating the embarrassment was that the school systems
in Salem and Roanoke County had graduation rates more than
30 percent higher, and regardless of the reasons (Roanoke is
poorer than either), the gauntlet was on the ground. Today,
the city's graduation rate is 90 percent-one of the highest
urban graduation rates in the U.S.-and "literacy" has become a
watchword that is inspiring children and adults to learn to read.
The school systems have a variety of approaches and programs
to meet their goals (100 percent should read) and Blue Ridge
Literacy (see accompanying story) is teaching adults, especially
immigrants, to read English in order to function in a complex
society.

TheRoanoker.com

The road to this point is long and winding, but a visit to an
elementary reading class will tell you all you need to know as
you watch the enthusiastic faces and the eager hands shooting
upward in response to a question.
Here's a status report:

Roanoke City
Third-grade teacher Caroline Eschenbach of Mountain View
Elementary School won the Milken Educator Award of $25,000
last year, a citation often called "the Oscars of teaching," and her
reading classes are alive with enthusiasm and eager participation.
The award concentrated on her efforts at literacy. "The biggest
challenge we face," she says, "is differentiating instruction for
all students. We have a diverse group of learners-backgrounds,
incomes, reading levels.
JULY/AUGUST 2019

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The Roanoker - July/August 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - July/August 2019

The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - Intro
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