Second-grader Michael Cortez dives into a good book during free reading time. (Submitted photo)

Emily Hagen
Director of Advancement and Marketing
St. Joseph School, Rice Lake

Research shows that only 35 percent of students are reading proficiently, but 95 percent of students can learn to read ( According to the Nation’s Report Card, 37 percent of American students are not reading at grade level in fourth grade ( We at St. Joseph School in Rice Lake believe that reading is the foundation of educational success, which is why we are on a mission to ensure every student is successfully reading by third grade. We are proud to share that our students score in the 66th percentile, which ranks our school in the top one-third of the country.

Learning how to read is an essential part of life, and certainly a very important part of the curriculum in kindergarten, first and second grade. For the last 10-plus years, our teachers have been utilizing the reading curriculum “Superkids.” This curriculum, to the students (and parents too), is captivating and fun. The “Superkids” are relatable characters that go on adventures and provide an engaging and cohesive framework for literacy success. Students will encounter characters such as Ettabetta, Icky and Oswald, who share their adventures as well as stories of making good moral choices, a direct tie back to our Catholic faith. The individuality of the Superkids draws a likeness to the characters and creates a bond that lasts throughout their elementary learning.

We want our students to be exceptional readers. With this at the forefront, we were able to provide the opportunity for our elementary teachers during the 2022-23 school year to receive a Certificate of Masters in the Lexia LETRS. This program was paid for using Title II funding through the Rice Lake Area School District. Thank you to the Rice Lake Area School District for providing this opportunity to our teachers.

LETRS stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling and is often referred to as a program that explores the science of reading. Our K-4 teachers attended several virtual and in-person classes taught by a LETRS master during the course of the school year. LETRS teaches the skills needed to master the foundational and fundamentals of reading and writing instruction – phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and written language ( LETRS provides our teachers with a deep foundation of the science of reading to help students learn how to read and is helping students who struggle to read.

The LETRS program provides tips and resources for how to help students memorize and break what is called the “reading code.” The reading code can consist of letter sounds, rules, vowels, and associating symbols (the letters themselves). Many adults may recall learning how to read by starting with the letter A in the alphabet and ending with the letter Z. Students now learn letters in order of code or by the building of simple words. Learning these letters while forming words allows opportunities for students to practice “decoding” and “encoding” of the letters that make up the words. Decoding is using letter sounds to read words and encoding is using letter sounds to write words. Teachers can pivot their teaching style to each student based on how students learn. For example, one student may learn better while encoding a word vs. decoding.

Mrs. Western, our kindergarten teacher, says, “Superkids is an amazing program and LETRS has provided me the tools I need to make an amazing reading program even better.”

Our principal, Jerry Van Dyke, says, “Our teachers love to learn; they are lifelong learners. It was no surprise to me that our elementary teachers all responded with a resounding ‘yes’ to take extra time out of their teaching work day to complete the Masters in LETRS program.”

Wendy Denison, second grade teacher, iterates, “The LETRS training has provided me with the ‘why’ answers to support our students. It has validated that our ‘Superkids’ reading program is one of the best. ‘Superkids’ has proven to be a top-notch reading curriculum that works. I feel so grateful to have been a part of a legacy of excellent readers at St. Joseph School.”

Catholic education is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. Learning how to be an excellent reader is a gift and skill that lasts a lifetime and pays off well into the future.

Thank you to our teachers for their commitment to lifelong learning, so they can pass on the legacy of this skill to the next generation.