Society & Culture & Entertainment Education

A Reading Charter School: Expanding Opportunities in Palatka, Florida

Geri Melosh was the Superintendant of the county school system for many years and this has provided her with invaluable insights as to people, resources and what needs to be done. For years Geri and Bob planned, researched and secured grants to start a charter school in Palatka. When Bob retired as the area doctor for Palatka, this allowed him time to dedicate championing education. As a couple, they shared a dream: today their dream has become a reality.

In 2003, the Children's Reading Center (CRC) opened its doors. They began in the basement of St. Mark's Episcopal Church and later moved to an abandoned elementary school owned by the school district. CRC moved into their new dome structure in January 2008.

The academic program is based on the most thorough research into how children learn best-- integrating learning of skills across traditional subject field divisions including arts, foreign languages, music and PE. Their focus is "Content Counts" and emphasizes acquisition of skills while providing the material needed to build a child's knowledge of his world. Once the child learns to read, then the same approach is applied acquisition of math and science skills.

For each nine week period everyone-from kindergarten through fifth grade-focus on a theme and applies the appropriate skills to that endeavor. For example, the first graders observe, read and write about the life cycle of the lima bean; the third graders study the habitat of live crawfish; and the fifth graders research the salt tolerance of brine shrimp eggs. Knowledge and skill is supported and deepened applying basic skills during general subject class time as well as learning new skills during science labs, music and art lessons and computer labs. Students can rotate among art, music, science, IT and Spanish according to their grade level. They also participate in dramatics and physical education as well as recess. The specific program for each student differs according to their age, skill and learning progress. For students that require additional help attend very small intensive group reading sessions in the afternoons that focus on phonics, fluency or comprehension. Meanwhile, students who do not need this additional support are engaged in more advanced group activities.

CRC not only improves student's literacy skills, but also assists parents in helping their own children and trains teachers in the latest best practices for literacy instruction. Their philosophy is that reading well is the single most important academic skill that a child can acquire and it serves as the foundation for all future learning. All students benefit from a rich and challenging curriculum. CRC also addresses a child's academic problems at an early stage and follows the student's progress throughout. Positive home/school partnerships build student success. Yes, "Content Counts" and great teachers are truly great heroes!

Geri and Bob first met in Liberia where they worked as Peach Corps volunteers. In 1987 they moved to Palatka, Florida where Bob, a physician, would provide medical care to the community. Geri did her PHD dissertation on childhood literacy and was passionate about getting children to read. Last summer they returned to Liberia and reconnected with two former Peace Corps volunteers who are now married and living in Liberia as missionaries. The wife oversees schools for children displaced curing the civil war, and they began a new literacy program "Liberia Reads" that works with first and second grade teachers in two schools. Bob and Geri will return next summer to help expand the program to four schools and add third grade to the curriculum.

Geri and Bob made this Charter School happen through determination, partnerships, community support and countless hours. Today, CRC Charter School is less expensive than a regular public school, and its success rate is far superior to other schools due it focus on content. Geri and Bob used their own life experiences to now provide children with new life experiences and better opportunities. You can feel the enthusiasm and see the sparkle of curiosity in the eyes of the children and teachers at this brave new charter school in Palatka, Florida.

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