Terese Maguire is the Director of Early Childhood at Bridgeport Public Schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She sat down with the Footsteps2Brilliance team to share her insights and best practices for accelerating early literacy in her district with Footsteps2Brilliance.
Tell us about yourself and your background in education.
I started my career as a kindergarten and later a first-grade teacher. I came to Bridgeport Public Schools to work as a literacy coach, first as a Reading First literacy coach at a BPS elementary school, before becoming a literacy specialist for district. At that point I went back to school to earn a graduate degree in education administration and then became an assistant principal at a K-8 school. After that, I served as the principal of a magnet school for 7 years.
When the role of BPS Director of Early Childhood became available, I was excited about the opportunity to get back to my roots in early literacy. I love working with early learners to build a strong, solid foundation in education and literacy. With our early learners, we’re building a love of learning for life. I can’t think of a better role in education.
Why are you passionate about early literacy?
I know as a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, and an administrator that if we don’t build those foundational literacy skills early, students will stay remedial readers. I’ve seen it in the research and in my own experience time and time again.
If we don’t build good habits and a love of literacy now, student learning gaps are going to continue to grow. That’s not what we want for our kids — we want them to build the passion, stamina, and skills they need to be successful readers and learners.
How has the pandemic affected your teachers, students, and families?
Talking about those learning gaps, when you add in the pandemic, we’re seeing student learning gaps widen. We’re starting to see students who are 2, 3, 4 years behind. By the time those students reach second grade, the gap is going to be too wide if students don’t have those foundational skills now.
The pandemic has also affected our parent partnerships and engagement with families. Before the pandemic, we would have in-person family engagement workshops where teachers would work directly with parents and families to help them get involved in their children’s education.
When the pandemic hit and families couldn’t come into the building anymore, we lost that direct, face-to-face connection with them.
How has your district’s partnership with Footsteps2Briliance helped to remedy those problems caused or exacerbated by COVID?
With Footsteps2Brilliance we’re building that school-to-home connection back because we have an app that we use at school and families can use at home. Plus it’s bilingual, so it gives parents a sense of ownership and confidence in what their children are learning.
If I can sit down next to my child and learn alongside them, I become a partner in their education.
Footsteps2Brilliance has served as a lifeline for our students and families during school disruptions, too. Earlier in the year, we had two early childhood classrooms exposed to COVID, so they had to do 5-day shutdowns. Because we have F2B, our parents were able to access the program at home so their children can continue learning. It’s helping us to avoid learning loss due to any kind of school disruption, which we know is going to be vital to get kids where they need to be to succeed academically.
What are some best practices you’re using to ensure your teachers and students succeed with Footsteps2Brilliance?
I’m always sending emails to my teachers and principals — congratulations emails, positive reinforcement, weekly data updates. Every week I send out an update on books read, words read, and the student leaderboard for the week.
From my time as a principal I know that if I don’t share this data with the teachers, I’m not showing that it’s important to me. As a director, I want to use that experience. By sharing updates and showing I care, I’m building the teachers’ capacity and understanding of this great tool and giving them subtle reminders that this is a priority. It’s that wraparound communication that creates buy-in at all levels, which is what we need to help our students succeed.
Footsteps2Brilliance isn’t the only digital learning system your district uses. How has your experience with F2B compared to other platforms?
Footsteps2Brilliance really is a cut above. From a curriculum standpoint, it’s dual language in English and Spanish and it’s high-interest to our students. It’s also teacher-friendly; it’s easy for our teachers to model the program in class and pull their classroom data to see how students are performing. And finally, the support we’re getting from the F2B team is outstanding. I know from experience that not every company is there to support you after they’ve made the sale, but F2B is going above and beyond.
What are you hearing from your teachers about their experiences using Footsteps2Brilliance in the classroom?
I’ve been in all of our Pre-K classrooms to see and hear what our teachers think about Footsteps2Brilliance. They really love it and that’s played a big part in making this implementation successful. If teachers don’t like something, they won’t promote it and they won’t use it.
We have 1:1 iPad pairing for our students, so students are able to each be on the program on their own device, but we’re also seeing them pair up for peer collaboration. Our teachers are using the program in front of the whole class, in small groups, and individually with students who need extra support.
Our teachers have been telling us that it’s high-interest for their students, so students are motivated, interested, and engaged in what they’re doing. As digital natives, our young students are so tech-savvy and we can see that they just love using the Footsteps2Brilliance technology. Because of that, students are excited to share what they’re doing with their teacher, classmates, and parents.
What are you hearing from parents about the school-to-home connection that Footsteps2Brilliance helps provide?
We’ve been working hard to get every parent onboarded to really get them involved in their children’s learning and we’re already hearing great feedback from parents. We’re hearing stories from parents about how they’re using the platform to start building good habits for their young children, for example by having them work on Footsteps2Brilliance at the same table as their older siblings who are doing homework in the evenings. And again, because it is so user-friendly and high-interest for our students, they enjoy using it at home. They love reading the books and moving through the activities — it’s awesome to watch.
About Footsteps2Brilliance, Inc.
Footsteps2Brilliance, Inc. is the breakthrough early learning platform that accelerates early literacy achievement by uniting the power of mobile gaming technology with the latest in cognitive research. Footsteps2Brilliance provides enticing, interactive, 24/7 learning experiences that digitally link school and home to give students the edge they need for success in school today and the world tomorrow. For further information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.