The Surprising State Where Kids Are Making a Reading Comeback

| Ed Post | Holly Korbey

When Brittany Ferrell’s son first came to her in Brownsville, Tennessee, as a foster child, she worried he might never read. At nearly five years old, Sonny was far behind his peers in language and speech skills. In the fall of 2018, Ferrell remembered, Sonny’s pre-K goal was to know and speak 50 words. 

By last fall, two years of pandemic school disruptions had Ferrell worried that he had fallen so far behind, that he might never catch up. But about halfway through last school year, Ferrell noticed Sonny was sounding out words. Soon after, he began reading. 

Sonny gained crucial ground this year. “Going into second grade, he really struggled to name the letters of the alphabet and their sounds. But he made more gains than I ever could have imagined,” Ferrell said.

“He’s reading at an end-of-kindergarten level—but still, he’s reading.” Ferrell happens to know a bit more than your average mom about why Sonny progressed so far in a year—she’s also a kindergarten teacher in the district. That makes her part of an ambitious statewide reading initiative the state launched in January 2021.

“This is the most effective reading program—curriculum, intervention, all of it together—that I’ve seen as a teacher, and I’ve been teaching 11 years,” Ferrell said. “I have a lot of faith in it because it worked.”

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Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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