Peabody school principal Demian Barnett and students in the video "Follow Me." | Credit: Courtesy

Peabody elementary school has proudly served its community since its opening in 1928. When it became a charter school in 1992, claiming the 21st charter in the State of California (of now more than 1,300), it maintained its attendance boundary, keeping it the home school for the nearly 800 students that live within the enrollment area. As the largest elementary school in Santa Barbara, Peabody takes seriously its role in making a difference in the lives of the diverse student population that is highly reflective of the Santa Barbara community at large. One current effort to make just such a difference is the focus on and deep investment in literacy instruction that is grounded in a body of research called the science of reading.

Reading instruction is one of the most studied areas in education. In the past 50 years, that research has expanded to include findings from related fields such as psychology and neuroscience. Modern technology allows researchers to literally watch the brain work as it performs the act of reading, a skill that humans aren’t necessarily born to acquire like the way we are born to learn oral speech. Based on this rigorous research, Peabody teachers have committed to learning and training in the science of reading in order to better instruct all of their students.

This is important because prior to this work, many teachers were trained by their credential programs in a program called balanced literacy. Balanced literacy is an approach that has been widely used for a long time both locally and statewide. Balanced literacy often leaves out the explicit instruction of letter-sound correspondence and how those letters come together to make words. Due to the complexity of the English language, without this explicit instruction, students are at best left with compensatory strategies such as guessing the meaning of words based on pictures or other cues, or at worst left with gaps in their reading knowledge that they never overcome on their journey to be strong readers.

To ensure that teachers are explicitly teaching to all the areas needed to become a proficient reader, Peabody has committed to a multi-year professional development series in the science of reading approach known as Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, or LETRS. LETRS has been developed by renowned literacy experts including Dr. Louisa Moats to ensure Peabody teachers all have the skills needed to master the fundamentals of reading instruction—phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, writing, and language. This two-year course involves readings, direct instruction, and ongoing bridge-to-practice activities to cement the new learnings.

Peabody is already seeing positive results. Reading scores are up, referrals to special education are down, and the rate at which we are reclassifying our emerging multilingual students as English proficient exceeds state benchmarks. What’s powerful about the data is that it extends across the whole of our student body. For this reason, Peabody understands that embracing a science of reading approach also aligns with our equity goal to end the historically predictive performance of students who fall within certain subgroups. The explicit instruction recommended by the science of reading is also good for mitigating the assumptions and biases that may have been inherent in prior reading approaches. In short, the science of reading is good for all students and all kinds of learners.

The promise of charter schools like Peabody was to challenge the status quo in terms of how schools approach the awesome responsibility of educating the next generation of students. Peabody has proudly been doing that work for almost 100 years, either as a district school or a charter, but always as the “home school” for those that live within our boundaries. Peabody looks forward to continuing to help students become strong readers, a skill we know that is linked to not only future academic and professional success, but also to overall happiness.

For further information please contact Claire Krock or Demian Barnett at (805) 563-1172.

Demian Barnett is the principal at Peabody Charter School.


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