Education, Local News

Colorful books, interesting topics exciting Churchill School readers

Maybe it was the pictures, or the interesting themes. Or maybe it was the stories themselves that got kids at Churchill School excited about the new Imagine Learning books.

Unlike the current textbook that gave the third, fourth and fifth graders a paragraph or two on a topic to read and assess, the new Imagine Learning series gives each student a set of books with bright, colorful photos. Each book focuses on a topic giving students much more information to read and consider before drafting their paragraphs.

Churchill School teachers Katherine Kvasnicka, left, and Cathy Jones, were team members assessing a new English/Language Arts program for District 153. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

“The students really get into it when they have the book in their hands,” said Katherine Kvasnicka, an English Language Learner teacher.  The illustrations bring the words to life, and having the books allows the students to “see the words in print multiple times, over and over.”

“I love the fact that they have the books. They are enthralled with the books, and they want to know more and want to find out more,” said third grade teacher Cathy Jones who’s been in the classroom since 1991 and used many variations of reading materials.

She describes third grade as a transition year. Students move up from Willow School where they’ve learned the foundations of reading and writing a sentence. Now they’re expected to read a book and write about the theme or certain passages.

“I see it as a perfect opportunity to do something a little bit different,” Jones said. For example, using Imagine Learning books gave the teacher a new way to introduce the topic of reading.

“Our first unit is all based on how kids have access to books in their world,” she said. For example, one book is titled “My Librarian is a Camel.” Another introduces the third graders to traveling librarians in Mexico. Jones said the books allowed her “to build that community in our classroom, but also seeing how that works across the entire world.”

Colorful photos, relevant topics and interesting stories won Imagine Learning Co. a contract for new English/Language Arts books at Churchill School in Homewood. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
Colorful photos, relevant topics and interesting stories won Imagine Learning
Co. a contract for new English/Language Arts books at Churchill School in
Homewood. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Kvasnicka, who interacts with third, fourth and fifth graders, said, “We also feel like we still want to instill a love of reading. It’s hard to compete with technology and everything else that’s out there. When the texts are engaging it’s just easier.” The books don’t overwhelm the students, but they do help with the use of vocabulary and informational texts.

The books also overlap with social studies and science. For example, Imagination Learning text for fourth grade deals with the American Revolution and another looks at water and ecology information. Third graders have a module on weather.

Before the District 153 Board of Education agreed to begin using Imagine Learning in the classroom in August 2024, teachers this past year piloted the materials. Half of the teachers used the current books, and half used Imagine Learning.

Jones and Kvasnicka joined teachers Taylor Hogan, Jacqueline Perell, Christine Engels, Christopher Kovarik, Alexandra Klupchak, Lisa Yoshino and Jillian Sosnowski to serve as a selection committee. They worked with Nicole Madden, District 153’s English/Language Arts coach/coordinator.

Kathy Schaeflein, District 153 curriculum director, said teachers gave feedback on what the students needed. They did multiple surveys as the year progressed. The board’s Education Progress Committee read each teacher comment.

Schaeflein said both the current reading series and Imagine Learning “are good, our students scored very well with both. Both programs taught the skills needed for reading and writing comprehension, for understanding literature and fluency, but Imagine Learning just had the engagement piece and the love of learning.”

Jones said, “I’ve taught both programs and I’ve gone through a lot of programs and this one, just to see the joy in the kids’ faces when they’re handed the books or when they’re reading. Or when they’re breaking off into groups and doing research together or what the program calls Expert Groups, they feel like they’re important in a way, like ‘I’m an expert now and I’m going to learn about the country we’re learning about, or the frogs we’re learning about,’ so it really is a more engaging program.”

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