Mineola School District challenges community to read 9 million words

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A Hampton Street student demonstrates the Footsteps2Brilliance app for members of the Mineola Board of Education. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

The Mineola School District is expanding its bilingual education beyond the walls of its schools.

During a press conference on Nov. 14, Superintendent Michael Nagler announced the district is accepting the Read2Succeed Communitywide Early Literacy Initiative 9 Million Word Challenge in partnership with Footsteps2Brilliance, a bilingual reading platform the district began using as a pilot program last year in the dual language classrooms.

The challenge, like the reading platform, is available to everyone in the community regardless of if he or she is enrolled in the district’s schools, Nagler said. Community members can use the application on a smartphone, tablet or computer, and the word count is tracked by the system.

Through the initiative, the district aims to minimize the word gap that exists between families of different socioeconomic classes and language barriers.

By age three, children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers, and enter kindergarten with 25 percent of the vocabulary they need to succeed, according to Footsteps2Brilliance.

Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss, front right, Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira, front middle, and others, learn how to use Footsteps2Brilliance from a Hampton Street student.
(Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Perhaps an even more alarming statistic, and one that founder and CEO of Footsteps2Brilliance Ilene Rosenthal said urged her to create the program, is that half of the children in the United States will enter kindergarten at risk of failing. Rosenthal said that the word gap widens when children enter kindergarten without prior exposure to literacy.

Which is why she created a tool that “scales learning to everybody,” she said.

With the program, families have a library of books accessible to them along with educational activities to help them learn regardless of their socioeconomic background. Children can read along or have books read aloud to them. Children are also able to interact with the virtual pages to make images move or make sounds, said Dana Tufariello, a dual language teacher at Hampton Street Elementary.

Rosenthal said she knew the idea was transformative enough that not everybody would understand its potential. That is why she chose Nagler to be one of the program’s 12 legacy innovators.

“Mineola is a beautiful mosaic of diversity,” Nagler said. “The uniqueness of our population makes us think differently about meeting the needs of our students.”

The district began using the program last year in the dual language classes. Students from the dual language classes demonstrated how they use the application to the audience at Tuesday’s conference.

Second grader, Maria, said her favorite part of Footsteps2Brilliance is that she can learn everything.

Roneldy Pingitore, a dual language teacher at Hampton Street School, said the program adds more resources for the Spanish lessons that are not usually as readily available. It also gives non-Spanish speaking parents more confidence to help their children with their homework, Pingitore said.

During the conference local and state officials recognized and honored the district for its efforts, including Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss, New York State Assemblyman Edward Ra and Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello. Representatives on behalf of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, Rep. Kathleen Rice, State Sen. Elaine Phillips and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also recognized the district.

Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello honors Superintendent Michael Nagler during the conference.
(Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Rosenthal said technology is a wonderful equalizer in education, but added that technology should not be a blinder for what is most important – that someone who has the ability to read also has the ability to express himself.

In addition to reading books, on Footsteps2Brilliance children have the opportunity to write their own stories.

Through speaking with Mineola district members that put together a video of the children, Rosenthal said she heard that parents said children would rush through dinner to be able to go onto Footsteps2Brilliance.

“If we can get kids that excited about learning that’s what it’s all about,” Rosenthal said.

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