Foundation Funds: The science of learning to read

Any career requires the ability to adapt over the years. Teaching is no different, as how kids learn can change as much as what they learn.

In her 19th year with the Mechanicsburg Area School District, Cara Pehanich knows that as a Reading Specialist at Shepherdstown Elementary School.

Change means adapting.

“Over the last 5+ years, the reading specialists and classroom teachers in Mechanicsburg began to learn about ‘The Science of Reading,’” Pehanich said. “This refers to the way that the brain learns to read as discovered through peer-reviewed scientific research studies. It involves complex processes from different parts of the brain and requires explicit and systematic instruction in both language and word recognition.”

Pehanich applied for and received a $1,200 grant from The Wildcat Foundation for the 2023-24 school year to use for Fundational Aligned Decodable Books. She used the grant money to purchase licenses for printable decodable texts, then printed out the materials for teachers to use within her building.

“Fundations is phonics and spelling program our K-3 teachers use to instruct whole group,” Pehanich said. “When you focus on science of reading, decodable texts become really important. You don’t want to introduce students to letter sounds or letter patterns they haven’t been taught yet.”

Wildcat Foundation: What year did the programs start?

Pehanich: Mechanicsburg has been using Wilson Fundations in the classroom for almost 10 years. In the last few years, there has been a renewed focus on using the program with fidelity and trying to align our small group instruction with Fundation’s scope and sequence.

Wildcat Foundation: What role did the foundation play in the process?

Pehanich: We used Wildcat Foundation grant money to purchase digital and printable decodable texts that align with the units in Fundations in grades K-3. We purchased enough licenses so that classroom sets of each book could be printed and put into our book room.

Wildcat Foundation: Where did the idea come from and/or what need were you addressing with the programs?

Pehanich: Part of my role as reading specialist is to support teachers in delivering literacy instruction and to help them find resources to use. The reading specialists knew that Fundations would be a focus for classroom teachers so I began researching decodable texts that might match the program’s scope and sequence.

We already have several sets of “readable” texts from Fundations, called Geodes, but those can be difficult for some students, so I wanted something that we could use with average and struggling readers. In my research, I found a teacher creator called “First Grade Maestra Trisha Hyde” who had written decodable books for grades K-3 that aligned with Fundations units. I wanted to purchase enough licenses so that teachers could use these resources during whole group Fundations lessons or at the teacher table during their small group targeted instruction lessons.

Wildcat Foundation: What are some of the key impacts you see for the programs?

Pehanich: These books have been very helpful to teachers this year. Teachers have told me that they love having a resource that they know will match their instruction. It’s been helpful to add more decoding practice to Fundations lessons, which can be heavy on spelling and light on reading

It’s also helped teachers to find resources for their above and below level readers because we have texts for all 4 grade levels. In addition, the books come with additional activities like worksheets, comprehension questions, cut up sentences, and more, which teachers use to supplement their lessons. It has taken a lot off teachers’ plates by providing them with high-quality “grab and go” materials.

Wildcat Foundation: What are your goals for the programs moving forward?

Pehanich: I would love to see this program expand to other buildings! I know how much my teachers and students benefit from using them and it would be great to give other buildings that chance, too.