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SD Department of Education aims to boost state literacy rates


From menus at the restaurant to directions at work, reading plays a major role in many basic day-to-day tasks. A new program aims to better prepare South Dakota students for that reality.

“The ability to read is foundational to all learning. Up until about 3rd grade, students are learning to read; after that, they are reading to learn,” said Secretary of Education Joseph Graves. “Therefore, it’s critical that our students have strong reading skills early in their educational careers.”

The Department of Education-led literacy initiative is hoping to build a state full of strong readers, but they have to start early.

Tea Area Schools superintendent Jennifer Lowery said this program came from a real need in curriculum.

“As the superintendent, I’m surrounded by some unbelievable professionals that noticed a gap in phonics instruction in our curriculum as we adopted in 2019,” Lowery said.

Lowery said this program, informed by "The Science of Reading," is a chance for kids to get firsthand help.

“One of the strongest performing instructional strategies is direct instruction," Lowery said. "That means the teacher is specifically indicating – here is the letter ‘A’, here are the sounds of that letter. It is very specific, and teacher directed.”

She said this program will ideally open doors for readers of all levels.

“The Science of Reading is for every child – whether they are coming in as one of our top readers who are already reading in kindergarten, or if they are just learning their letters,” Lowery said.

Schools across the state have already begun implementing the new curriculum.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.