Believe and Read program results make true believers out of Catholic school communities

By Sandra R. Sabo

A literacy initiative in Catholic schools is making an impact on thousands of young readers — from those who struggle to those who excel to everyone in between. 

The Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE) partners with Groves Learning Organization and Cretin-Derham Hall to bring Believe and Read to kindergarten through third-grade Catholic school classrooms. For the past five years, this structured, scientific approach to reading has met students where they are and taken them to the next level of comprehension. 

The statistics are telling. 

A commitment to a sustainable literacy program

In fall 2021, 79% of first-grade students at St. Jerome School in Maplewood were considered high risk for not reading at grade level. By spring 2022, that number dropped to 21%. 

During the same school year, the number of St. Jerome students in first through third grade who were reading above grade level tripled. 

 “For many of the students who were reading below grade level, we found that the Believe and Read methodology was an effective way to help them gain or regain skills,” said Principal Anne Gattman, who noted the differences they particularly saw in new students in 2020 and 2021.

Beginning in kindergarten, students master letter recognition, learn the correct sound associated with each letter, and move into building words. The literacy program devotes two hours per school day to reading or writing activities, including whole-group instruction, small-group support and independent study. 

“There’s a challenge in front of us every day to teach language well,” said Gattman, noting that 70% of St. Jerome’s 175 K-8 students are multilingual learners. “The data tell us we’re moving children out of the high-risk category very effectively. We’re also proving that the Believe and Read model is very effective with English-language learners.”  

Gattman added, “It’s important to give a shout-out to the fact that CSCOE made a commitment and has stuck with it … giving us an on-ramp of three years to learn the program, understand how to do it well, and then [help us make it sustainable].”

Results generate buzz

Like St. Jerome, St. Dominic School in Northfield is in its fourth year of Believe and Read. 

“The program strives to have every child reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade. By the second year of the program, that’s exactly what we had,” said Brooke Johnson, St. Dominic’s enrichment specialist, literacy coach and sixth-grade social studies teacher. 

Overall, for the 2021-22 school year, St. Dominic students in first through third grade who were reading at or above grade level rose from 52% in the fall to 74% in the spring — a 42% increase. 

Word has gotten out in the community, and school leaders weren’t surprised when a summer open house attracted parents who specifically asked about Believe and Read. 

Students join their parents in giving the curriculum a thumbs-up. When Archbishop Bernard Hebda recently visited St. Dominic School, he asked a first-grade student to identify the best part of the school day. 

The student’s immediate answer? 

“Believe and Read.” 

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