NYC public school receives phonics assistance from neighboring private school as part of literacy overhaul

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Sloan Shapiro stood in front of a group of teachers from P.S. 84, Manhattan’s Upper West Side public school, clutching a deck of pale yellow flashcards. Shapiro, an educator at the Stephen Gaynor School, a private school for children with reading challenges, led the teachers through a phonics lesson. The lesson aimed to teach the relationship between sounds and letters and help the teachers refine their phonics instruction. This free 15-week course is the first of its kind at Gaynor, highlighting the renewed emphasis on phonics instruction in elementary schools across New York City.

For years, the Gaynor School has partnered with nearby public schools like P.S. 84 to provide after-school assistance for students struggling with reading. However, training teachers directly wasn’t feasible in the past due to different approaches to literacy instruction. P.S. 84 had been using the “Units of Study” curriculum, which has faced criticism for its lack of emphasis on phonics. With the new phonics mandate, Gaynor is considering expanding its training efforts to other schools beyond P.S. 84.

The training program at Gaynor uses the Orton-Gillingham method, traditionally employed for dyslexic students but now applied to a wider range of learners. This approach breaks down language into fundamental spelling and sound patterns, gradually increasing complexity while incorporating multi-sensory techniques. Gaynor officials attest to its effectiveness for their students, although broader evidence is limited. Teachers like Johana Talbot have found success in implementing the strategies learned at Gaynor in their classrooms, empowering students and improving their phonetic skills.

Carla Murray-Bolling, a kindergarten teacher at P.S. 84, expressed gratitude for the training program, as she was thrust into teaching phonics with little preparation. Murray-Bolling and Talbot, along with other teachers, practice and refine their phonics instruction techniques to assess student progress and ensure mastery of the principles underlying reading.

Educators at Gaynor and P.S. 84 hope that early intervention and improved phonics instruction in public schools will prevent students from falling behind and help them develop stronger foundations in reading.

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