Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation needs your support to maintain Columbia University Literacy Programs


By RSF Education Foundation

As class sizes are increasing and resources for specialized teachers are being cut across the country, students at the R. Roger Rowe School continue to have extra resources to help them learn the fundamentals. Literacy is seen as one of the keys to success in learning at the Ranch School. The school is an affiliate school accepted as part of the prestigious Columbia University/Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project and 100 percent of K-8 classroom teachers have been trained in the model. This is the 8th year of the literacy support program and the 5th year of literacy coaches to train classroom teachers.

The extent of the Literacy Program is largely due to a generous grant from the RSF Education Foundation. The grant provides funding support for 2 fully credentialed Literacy Coaches to support on-going staff development using the latest research and materials. Lindsey Donaldson (K-4) and Maureen Cassarino (5-8) work cooperatively with teachers and students to support their reading and writing lessons. They work one on one with each teacher as well as with each grade level team.

Dynamic and Individualized Reading Instruction Aids Young Readers

Learning to read is complex for students. “Teaching reading is difficult. There are so many nuances,” noted Lindsey Donaldson. “Our teachers are well supported to teach the children to read.” Children at the Ranch School enjoy a 10:1 student/teacher ratio or less during the reading block each day. This is due to the 5 fully credentialed and specialized Literacy Support teachers that the Foundation funds for grades K-4.

Each day for one hour a literacy support teacher works as a team with specific K-4 teachers and the students in their classroom helping the students advance their reading skills. They assist the teachers assessing students’ abilities and working with groups of children based on their current proficiency.

These groups are dynamic and are assessed on an ongoing basis so that children are working to the best of their ability. Children are reading books they choose at their own guided reading level, not reading a set of books that every other child in their grade is reading.

“Our literacy program has made a positive impact on student learning and instruction,” commented First Grade Teacher Linda Tan who is in her 21st year of teaching at the school. “Students are receiving much more instruction than prior to our literacy program. This is made possible with the instructional support of our amazing literacy teachers and reading intervention teachers. I see my students thrive and grow in this supportive environment.” Children in K through 4th grade also have writing and phonics or word study at other times of the day. In the 5th through 8th grades students have more minutes of reading and writing than most other middle schools in San Diego County.

Literacy Coaches Assist Implementation of New Common Core Standards

Last year 48 states adopted the Common Core Standards which need to be implemented over the next two years. Ms. Donaldson is working with the grade level teams to implement them. For example, there is an increased emphasis on non-fiction reading, so she is working with the 4th grade team on creating an expanded non-fiction reading curriculum. “We are developing materials to teach the children what they need,” she noted. Ms. Donaldson works with the teachers using a workshop model. There is both a lab site for the teachers to apply instructional learning and a hands-on classroom where the teachers learn by doing. Additionally twice a year she works with each teacher on a specific area of their teaching. “I am thankful for the in-house training and support from our elementary school literacy coach, Lindsey Donaldson. My reading and writing instruction has improved with each training/coaching session,” commented Mrs. Tan.

Program Empowers Students to be Capable and Independent Learners

Maureen Cassarino does the same type of work with the 5th through 8th grade teachers and also teaches a reading and writing course for 8th graders. She is currently working with the 5th grade teachers on how to raise the level of notebook work in writing. The 6th grade teachers are working with her to create a level of independence and choice in writing. For example, when a student gets stuck writing and the teacher is busy, how do they figure out what to do? Mrs. Cassarino has worked with the teachers to create charts in the room to remind the students how to come up with ideas including asking their writing buddy. “It gives them a sense of independence,” said Mrs. Cassarino. “The kids are far more engaged in the things they are working on when they have been given some choice.” Mrs. Tan added, “Our reading and writing curriculum gives students the tools they need to be lifelong readers and writers. And our reading and writing workshop model sets students up to be capable and independent learners.”

“I think it would be reassuring for a parent to know that we are empowering their children to have control over themselves. It goes hand in hand with the positive discipline model implemented this year at the school,” said Ms. Donaldson.

Huge Leap in Volume of Reading in Middle School in Past 4 Years

Like students in the lower grades, middle school students are given a lot of choice about what they read too. “Four years ago we were doing whole class novels. Middle school students were reading 6 books during the school year,” commented Mrs. Cassarino. “Now the average middle school student reads one book per week or 36 books during the school year.” The students have time to read at home as part of their homework and are given time in school to read. There are book clubs in class where several students focus on the same book. Right now her 8th grade class has a unit on developing empathy; they are reading about the Holocaust. The children work in pairs discussing the reading and the other students give them feedback. “There has been a total paradigm shift in the middle school over the last four years,” added Mrs. Cassarino. “In the 5th and 6th grade where there was previously a guided reading program the volume of reading and writing has increased too.” Clearly the Foundation’s grant has helped these students become more proficient and better prepared them for high school and life.

R. Roger Rowe School students are expected to do a lot of writing as well at all grade levels. “All students receive regular, instructive feedback about their work. This is accomplished through one to one conferences as well as small group instruction and notebook checks. We give as much feedback to the students as possible. We teach kids to think about their reading and writing,” remarked Mrs. Cassarino.

Books Are a Priority at Ranch School

In addition to the school library and the classroom libraries, the literacy program has a book room on campus as another resource. Teachers may borrow books from it for use in their classroom. The literacy program has a book budget that is used to buy new books each year. The school just purchased more non-fiction books to support the shift in the standards. “Books are a priority here. The school provides environments in each classroom that are so conducive to learning,” commented Ms. Donaldson. “I feel so blessed I get to do what I love in an environment like this.”

Your Generosity Needed to Maintain World Class Literacy Programs

The Foundation’s Five-Star Education includes this great reading and writing program with the literacy coaches, literacy support teachers, training for grade level teachers and plenty of books. Please help maintain this world class education for our children. These programs are in place and need to be funded to be maintained for this school year. For questions or more information please go to or contact the RSF Education Foundation at 858-756-1141 x208. The difference is you!