Jamie Moreno, a fifth-grade student at Frontier Elementary School, wrote the Tonto Apache Tribe recently thanking them for the donation of $10,000 they made to his school for the Accelerated Reading Program.
The tribe's donation paid for two-thirds of the $15,000 program which is the first of its kind in Payson elementary schools. The Rim Country Middle School has a similar program which is now in its second year and has been showing positive results.
During the month of January, students in the program at FES read more than 5,000 books.
FES Principal Sue Myers said, "The children are reading much more. Last year in January, they read 1,500 books."
Jamie wrote: "I think it's an awesome program that helps us find books in our level that we can understand and get credit for. Accelerated Reading is helping me improve my reading skills and most of that's because of (the Tonto Apache tribe)."
Other students at FES agree with Jamie, saying that the testing part of the program is fun and that the school's new program makes them want to read more.
"And I'm getting better grades," said Brett Bowden.
Another student, David Hill, said he found books that he probably wouldn't have found without the program.
Third grade student Bryan Reed said, "The computer system is cool."
Myers said the students first take a test which determines their reading level, "not their frustration reading level, but the level at which they read with ease."
The students then check out one of the many books the program provides. Each book is labeled with a reading level. The student reads the book, and then takes a test on a computer which has multiple choice questions that test his or her understanding of the book. The students can get their test results immediately.
On Wednesday, in the school's computer lab, third-grade students Janea Jordan and T.J. Stepp were anxious to find out how they'd done. Janea entered her password and told her computer that she wanted to take the test. T.J. entered the name of the most recent book he's read.
Janea had five questions with multiple choice answers about the book she'd read, "Amazing Grace." The questions were about what Grace wanted to be in the class play and other things Janea had read about. She answered all five questions correctly and scored 100 percent. The score would be added to her other scores and she would receive points for the book she'd read based on the difficulty of the book. Janea earned 23.2 points. She would add that to the other points she'd gotten for reading 43 books.
"I think it's good for people to learn," she said.
T.J. had 10 questions about his book, "Land Before Time," and earned 29.3 points.
"I think it's kind of good to read and everything like that," he said. "It's to read to get an education."
T.J. has read 62 books since he first started the program Nov. 17.
"To me, it's amazing that they're anxious to test," said Joyce Clifton, the school's computer lab instructor. "It just blows me away. What's so nice about this is, it's so self-directed. It's easy for a child to see how they're doing instantly."
Clifton said she believes the A.R. program also teaches responsibility because the students must keep their own logs, listing the book's title, its reading level, how many points it was worth, and how many pages they had read in class.
And they also have the information in the computers.
"The computer keeps track of each student," Myers said. "At any time a teacher can see how one student or a whole class has tested. The beauty of this is the teacher can guide very carefully each individual student."
Myers said that all the schools' third, fourth and fifth grade students are in the program, and some students in second grade are participating. "As we're learning the program, we're bringing in the lower grades," she said.
"Awesome," "cool," even "great" are words the students are using to describe the computer software program that they will have access to for six years, through elementary school at FES and eighth grade at the Rim Country Middle School.
"The accelerated reading program is doing really well for the kids at FES," said Perry Tinnen, education liaison for the tribe. "We have three tribal kids who are excelling in the A.R. program, Justin Johnson, Shawna Davis and Charlie Lopez. They're the ones who are doing really well."
Tinnen said he and FES Librarian Eileen Lawson also looked at how the program is working in schools in Cottonwood and Sedona and submitted a request to the tribe's donation committee for the money to buy it.
Eighteen students from the Tonto Apache Tribe are currently attending FES, but not all of them are in the A.R. program there. Five are not involved because they are in the lower grades.
Lawson helped in the process of purchasing the software and reported on how students in other schools had done with the program.
"Nowadays you have to know how to read really well," Tinnen said. "It's showing now with the reports the students are bringing home that they're doing better at school. It's for all the students who go to FES. It's not just for the tribal community. I think it really will help them all."