Mary Black, reading academic specialist, has been with Forsyth Academy since the school opened its doors in 1999, but her passion for teaching kids to read hasn’t budged.
“Ms. Black is the backbone of reading intervention at our school and continues to push in the hybrid world,” said Teresa Blevins, dean of intervention at Forsyth. “She is teaching reading mastery virtually with small groups and now in-person as well. She knows how critical literacy is in ensuring our students are college ready, and a pandemic is not going to stand in her way of reaching kids.”
As a reading academic specialist, Ms. Black’s role changes to fit the needs of her school. She has trained paraprofessionals to use curricular tools and identify students for reading groups, and she’s worked with them to instruct remotely. But she also manages Reading Mastery implementation online, records a reading special for kindergarten, does intervention in middle school, and teaches a middle school elective. Though kindergarten through fifth grade is her focus, her influence has reached every grade at Forsyth.
Ms. Black’s favorite part of her job is teaching students to break the code when they learn to read. Her passion for teaching reading came to her when she was working in a fast-food restaurant as a teenager.
“An older gentleman got a job as a cook at the restaurant,” said Ms. Black. “He was a hard worker and had a positive attitude, but the orders were often wrong. Instead of mayonnaise there would be mustard and other minor mistakes. The manager figured out that he couldn’t read. To get the job, he had picked up an application and had help at home filling it out. The man was eventually let go and this broke my heart, but it also lit a fire in me and my passion for teaching reading.”
She believes that the ability to read opens doors and gives people more life opportunities.
“Learning to read builds each school year and unfortunately if you fall behind, gaps begin to get bigger and bigger,” said Ms. Black. “Reading is comprised of five main components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The skills you are taught in K-2 are not taught in elementary, it’s expected that you know how to read at this point when that’s not always the case. Making sure a student has a firm foundation to build reading skills upon is a necessity.”
But she doesn’t just use her passion to teach reading at the ground level – she also has a middle school elective that she turned into a book club. Her book club students read a book or two for the elective, and she tries to make the elective feel different than class.
“We aren’t focusing on standards are getting through the book,” said Ms. Black. “Our focus is to enjoy the story and talk about it. I am able to do this because the group is small. Once they warm up to each other, they aren’t afraid to voice their opinions and thoughts about what is happening in the story.”
One of the books her class read was “Serafina and the Black Cloak” by Robert Beatty, which is set in Asheville, North Carolina at the Biltmore House. One year, her students even went on a field trip to the Biltmore House after reading the book.
Ms. Black believes her elective class bonds well. Some of her past book club students are now in high school and she still sees some of them when they drive younger siblings to school.
Keep up the great work, Ms. Black!