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Spotlight Pennsylvania: Empowering 4th and 5th grade students with foundational phonics instruction

female teacher helping 4th and 5th grade students during class lesson

District Snapshot

South Western School District

  • 4,700 students K-12
  • 2,000 students K–5 across four elementary schools
  • Two elementary schools are 50% free and reduced lunch (Title 1)
  • Two elementary schools are 30% free and reduced lunch


South Western School District is located in south central Pennsylvania—in Hanover—about six miles from the Maryland/Pennsylvania border. South Western includes four elementary schools that serve approximately 2,000 students, one middle school, and one high school. Although each elementary school is unique, with its own characteristics, they now all share one important daily practice: foundational phonics instruction in all classrooms K-5 with 95 Phonics Core Program®.

The district launched 95 Phonics Core Program in the fall of 2023, after a years-long, district-wide literacy transformation plan—one that required bold decision making and, ultimately, trust in the steps that would move them forward. One of the challenges they were hoping to address was the lack of strong foundational literacy instruction, not just in grades K-3, but also in grades 4 and 5.

Manheim City Elementary, where Holly Culp teaches 4th grade ELA, is the largest elementary school in the district, accommodating a diverse range of learners in heterogeneous classrooms. Park Hills Elementary, where Kayla Steffens teaches 5th grade ELA, is comparatively smaller, offering classes tailored to the needs of gifted students as well as those requiring learning support or ESL services, in a more homogenous approach.

A notable decline in foundational skills

Over the course of the last decade, research has shown a measurable decline in reading and writing skills nationwide. Although there are people who blame this decline on the COVID pandemic, the truth is that these skills were declining even before the onset of COVID. Culp and Steffens confirm that they have also seen this in their students over the last 5-10 years.

Access the full story now: What you’ll learn

Are you ready for more insights on how 4th and 5th graders can soar with direct phonics and word study instruction? Download the full story and learn:

  • The advantages of a district-wide cohesive and unified phonics program
  • The importance of professional learning and coaching when implementing a new resource
  • Phonics and word study instruction in 4th and 5th grades and its benefits

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