Consultants fuel UCS early literacy strategy

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 20, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — As a school literacy consultant at Plumbrook Elementary School, much of Dawn Nacker’s workday involves helping small groups of kindergarten through sixth grade students on their reading skills, or working with teachers to support and guide their literacy instruction.

But to Plumbrook’s students, she often is simply known as “the book teacher.”  

“I’ve been teaching in the (Utica Community Schools) district for 29 years, and I still find every day to be rewarding, and I love instilling the love of reading with the students,” she said. “They ask me to borrow books, and I recommend books.”

Literacy consultants have become a key component of UCS education strategy as it has prepared for the state’s implementation of new elementary literacy requirements, including the possibility of not advancing third graders who test below literacy benchmarks.

In light of the state mandate, UCS officials said they are adding new literacy consultants to the elementary schools, and they have already been working intensely this school year.

“All 25 of our elementary schools have a literacy consultant this year,” said Michele VanDeKerkhove, UCS executive administrator of elementary schools.

The consultants have been collaborating with teachers on strategies to promote literacy and language arts, and the consultants will also directly help students, either one on one or in small groups, officials said.

The literacy instruction uses printed and digital tools to work on phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency — facets that cement the ability to listen, read and write.

VanDeKerkhove said the district has prepared for the state law by providing lots of chances to read in the classroom, including daily read-alouds. It also is working with families to promote student progress.  

“As students progress through each grade and master the expectations in reading, writing, speaking, listening and language, they demonstrate their development as a literate person,” she said in an email.

VanDeKerkhove also explained to the Sentry how the district tries to get the parents involved, adding that the goal is for parents to read to their children every day.

“Each of the buildings typically has a parent night that kind of goes over some of the simple things they can do at home: reading a book, how to teach a student to read from left to right,” she said. “We typically will give them a toolkit that they can bring home, whether it’s books or manipulatives for them to utilize.”

In a statement, UCS Superintendent Christine Johns praised the literacy consultants for their role in nurturing effective readers.

“We want our students to develop a lifelong love for reading and be effective communicators,” Johns said.

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting or by calling (586) 797-1000.