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Federal grant awarded to city schools to promote literacy

Deborah Bailey | 11/11/2016, 6 a.m.
Elementary school students and their families will receive an early holiday gift from Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) compliments of ...
Franklin Square Pre-K teacher Soraya Harden-Simmons and paraeducator Tara Rucker review a reading lesson with students who will benefit from the “Innovations in Literacy” grant Baltimore City Public Schools received from the U.S. Department of Education. Courtesy Photo

— Elementary school students and their families will receive an early holiday gift from Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) compliments of a $370,000 Innovations in Reading grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The grant is targeted at Pre-K through third grade children, families and teachers and will support early elementary level Baltimore Public Schools students.

“While we are always looking to increase our student’s academic performance, we’re looking at a much larger picture. We really want our students to truly love reading,” said Dr. Lindsay Sullivan, director of literacy, Languages and Culture, BPCS.

“We know our children love to read, but some of our students don’t always have access to books,” said Sullivan. “We’re purchasing access to a digital reading platform that will contain 15,000 books for all of our K-3rd graders.”

Students will be able to download a mobile device application or app to access the books. Students will be able to read their favorite selections independently or have the books read to them by family members.

“Our scholars want to be engaged, but they don’t have the materials,” said Terry Patton, Principal of West Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore. This will be a great opportunity for our scholars to select books on their own and acquire leveled books as well.”

“Many of our scholars are readers. They love to read. But they have challenges in comprehension. Having available reading material will help with fluency as well,” said Patton.

“We still need to work with families and community folks. You need to be able to enrich families and community folks to work with the students,” said Kirk Crawley, community leader, parent, former teacher and current Franklin Square lacrosse coach.

In order to meet the challenge of working with families and community in support of reading, BDPS will partner with the Baltimore Family League and other partners to ensure that pre-K and K-third grade parents receive support in reading to their children.

“The Family League and other partners will support parent training for early literacy communication. We want to encourage our parents to read to their children early and often,” said Sullivan.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that parents read to their children from birth all the way through elementary school. The classic text, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, documents the research of scholars who found that by the age of three, children from of wealthier, professional families have heard words millions of times more frequently than children from low-wealth families.

In-school professional development with current instructors will be the third goal of the grant.

“Our school personnel will receive targeted instruction to make sure they strengthen the skills they need to help our students with phonics, comprehension and fluency,” said Sullivan.

Patton hopes the grant will support expanded access to technology, an issue for BPSC with the recently announced 2016 PARCC tests. Baltimore City third graders suffered a seven percent drop in reading scores as the test transitioned from paper to an electronic format.

“One thing we definitely need is technology. A lot of times schools in zip codes that people don’t are about like ours, don’t have the necessary technology in the schools or in the home,” Patton said.

“We need the access as well as the knowledge and training to use the technology [and] our families need that support too” Crawley added.