New program helps hundreds of Palm Beach County students who are struggling to read

SPIRE reading intervention program aids more than 250 children across 13 elementary schools
Teacher AnnMarie Sternberg instructs students at Sunrise Park Elementary School in west Boca Raton during the 2022-23 academic year.jpg
Posted at 4:53 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-02 16:53:59-05

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — As we mark "Read Across America Day" on Thursday, a plan to close the literacy gap in Boca Raton elementary schools is hitting its stride.

The Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce came together to provide a new reading intervention program for more than 250 struggling students across 13 elementary schools.


A group of second graders at Sunrise Park Elementary School in west Boca Raton weren't reading at the start of the school year.

But it's a much different story now.

"Now they are so excited, because as soon as they see they can do it and they do it and give them that reinforcement, they are like, 'oh, let’s do more.' And it just keeps going," teacher AnnMarie Sternberg said.

Sternberg is guiding them using the SPIRE reading intervention program.

"It teaches each letter and sound explicitly to build a strong foundation of phonics. But it also has a strong vocabulary component, a fluency component," Sternberg said. "It’s really kind of perfect for those that really struggle to read."

Money to expand materials and teacher training for SPIRE came from the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce's Golden Bell Foundation.

"It’s not easy to find really well done, researched-based materials to get our kids caught up and to get them moving, especially the ones that struggle. So it’s amazing that they’ve done this," Sternberg said.

Across campus, reading interventionist Laura Palazzo is using SPIRE, too.

"It’s like a safety comfort zone for them that they’re able to read at their own pace, decode words, tap out when they need to, and feel safe," Palazzo said.

The program comes with all of the resources a teacher needs to help kids be successful. There are cards with sight words, there are little readers for them, and a learning manual. The hope is to expand the SPIRE program to more schools.

"The thought was, let’s pilot the SPIRE reading program at these schools in the Boca area. And if we get the outcomes that we expect, we want to expand it throughout the district," said James Gavrilos, the president and CEO of the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County.

Sternberg said the lessons that students take in carry over to new life experiences.

"We’ll probably talk about pig pens now for the next three days because it was in the story," Sternberg said.

Building confidence, one sound, one word, one sentence at a time.

"They’ll volunteer to read in front of the class," Sternberg said. "They’ll volunteer to do different tasks because now they know they can read it. They’re not afraid of it. Where in the past they tried to do anything they could to avoid having to read something."