“We come to school every day to learn, take responsibility for our actions and treat everyone with love, kindness, and respect.”
Denali Elementary was recently named ESEA Distinguished School for 2022-23 and we are so excited about it! We have 300 students preK through 5th grade & are located in Fairbanks, the 2nd largest city in Alaska. Our school is located right in the downtown area so the majority of our students are within a mile and walk to school, even when it’s 25 below zero! Our student population is very diverse. We have 27% of our students who are 2 or more races, 15% Alaskan Native, 30% caucasion, 15% hispanic, 6% african american, 4% asian and 3% pacific islander. About 60% of our students receive free or reduced lunches.
We have a motto here at Denali, “We come to school every day to learn, take responsibility for our actions and treat everyone with love, kindness, and respect”. This motto of spreading love, kindness and respect was given to us from an Alaskan native Artist and carver, Bert Ryan in the late 1990s, who, alongside our students, carved our very own totem pole which stands in our playground today.
Over the last few years our school saw, like many of you have, our achievement gap widen. The pandemic created multiple levels of academic knowledge within one grade level. Our kids were moving on to middle school without the essential reading blocks needed to navigate the world. This year our staff collaborated together to create a building wide Walk to Read program. We assessed every student for their phonological awareness. The intervention materials we use contain practices which are all 100% aligned to a Science of Reading (SOR) phonics-based, comprehensive scope & sequence. Included in our SOR lessons are letter sounds, orthographic word mapping, decodable high frequency words instruction, nonsense words, dictation, word chains, phonemic awareness, decodable books and comprehension.
Our protected walk to read time happens 5 days a week, 60 minutes a day and is everywhere throughout our building. Nearly every staff member has a group to teach. We have 24 different groups with anywhere between 8-20 students in each group. These groups are at the “just right” level for the child’s needs, regardless of their grade. Our students in special education are also mixed into our groups, thus giving them additional individualized education in reading.
“Our building is warm & full of love, kindness and respect. And reading, lots and lots of reading.”
We have trained our tutors in the same methods, so every student receives the instruction they need, and we know it’s uniform throughout the building. This could not happen without extraordinary collaboration of our staff. We have weekly PLC meetings and quarterly data team meetings to talk about student progress and possible movement between groups. Our decisions are data driven. Our staff is deeply committed to increasing literacy for our students. We know that reading is a foundational skill necessary for virtually everything we do. It opens possibilities for all children to succeed—to learn and grow, to explore and imagine, to investigate and verify, and to lead fulfilling lives. Reading well instills confidence and helps reduce inequities. That’s what happens at Denali Elementary. Our temperatures may get down to 50 below zero, but our building is warm & full of love, kindness and respect. And reading, lots and lots of reading.