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$2.16 million grant aimed at youngest readers
By JOE HUNT
Special to the News-Times
A new three-year federal grant will focus on helping Oak Harbor’s youngest students get a solid start in reading.
Oak Harbor School District learned last week it will receive a $2.16 million grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) fund to improve reading for children in preschool through fifth grade. The new reading emphasis will have an immediate impact on Oak Harbor elementary schools and preschool, with teachers coming for a week of intensive training before the start of the next school year.
The three-year project, titled “Early Reading, Lifelong Success,” is patterned after a program already in place at Crescent Harbor Elementary and Olympic View Elementary. The program uses a nationally known independent group of reading specialists to work with Oak Harbor teachers to improve how reading is taught in the classroom.
“The success of this grant is thanks in large part to the great work of our staff at those schools,” Superintendent Rick Schulte told the school board last Monday. “This is going to take what we’re already doing and doing it bigger and better.”
The grant will get started in August when regular classroom, special education, remedial and preschool teachers, as well as instructional assistants, return early to complete a week-long special reading academy. This will be followed by classroom visits and technical assistance from consultants at each school, as well as further training sessions.
“Successful readers have more success throughout their schooling in all subjects,” said Dr. Lance Gibbon, assistant superintendent and lead author of the 70-plus page grant application. “Reading is at the core of all learning.”
Oak Harbor School District is eligible for the DoDEA grant due to its high number of military-dependent students. Although the grant impacts all elementary students, it requires tracking the military dependents to specifically see if the program is having the desired effect of raising the reading abilities of those students.
“In a time of budget cuts and freezes, it is a pleasure to be able to move forward with a vision for strengthening literacy in our preschool and elementary schools,” Gibbon said. “This is just one of the many benefits of being a part of a Navy community.”
The idea behind the grant is to give teachers the tools and the professional training to more effectively work with the varied levels of reading abilities in each classroom, he said.
Each classroom has a variety of learners, Gibbon explained. Some students are advanced readers, while others may not have been exposed to much reading at home. Others might have an impediment to reading or a problem with comprehension.
“What we want to do is give teachers and instructional assistants the training and support to better assess reading abilities and provide effective lessons based on a student’s strengths and needs,” he said. “This includes assessing students’ abilities and providing teaching strategies for different circumstances.”
Through the grant, Oak Harbor will be contracting with the Consortium on Reading Excellence (CORE), a private firm made up of teachers who specialize in reading strategies. The CORE program is the centerpiece of the grant, based on their proven success both locally and around the nation. CORE is the group already working with Crescent Harbor and Olympic View elementary schools.
“CORE is not ‘one more thing’,” notes Literacy Coach Kim Kellogg. “The facilitators and the CORE Reading Academy focus on effective reading strategies to use with Storytown (Oak Harbor’s elementary reading curriculum) and other resources we already have in place. The strategies are practical, easy to use, and will really strengthen our reading instruction.”
Paula Seaman will serve as the full-time project director for the grant. This past year, Seaman completed her administrative internship and principal’s credential at Broad View Elementary, while also serving as the LAP (Learning Assistance Program) teacher for the school. “This is a great opportunity for Oak Harbor,” Seaman said. “I have been so impressed by CORE and I know this will make a positive difference for our staff and kids.”
Rounding out the team is current coach Kellogg, and longtime Oak Harbor teachers Susan Kovar and Lynn Goebel, who will train as literacy coaches. When this grant is done in three years, the literacy coaches will continue the work of the CORE program.
“We believe we have a really good program in place that will dramatically improve learning for Oak Harbor students,” Schulte told the school board. He said that next year, the school district plans to apply for another grant – this time for the secondary schools. Each school can only receive one grant, but the possibility for $2 million in professional development for secondary school is on the horizon.
“This is a great opportunity at our elementary schools and we’re anxious to expand this to the rest of our schools if given the chance,” Schulte said.
Joe Hunt is communications director for the Oak Harbor School District.