Five Early Reading Centers Funded

January 29, 2003
A $3.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will enable the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to fund new preschool Early Reading First (ERF) centers at five elementary schools in the Wheaton Cluster where young children who are at risk because of poverty and language development and their parents will find extensive access to books, materials, activities, and adults ready to share the joys of reading.

One of the largest grants awarded by the federal government for this new national initiative, the three-year program in Montgomery County is the result of an ongoing collaboration with the county's Department of Health and Human Services and the public library system.

The initiative builds on the school system's existing Early Success Performance Plan, which features a congruent curriculum and aligned instructional program beginning in pre-kindergarten. The plan is designed to have all children reading by Grade 3. The pre-kindergarten program, in particular, features the newly designed Fast Start curriculum, which emphasizes an alignment of reading, writing, mathematics, and language development in all preschool programs. The plan also features ongoing assessments in kindergarten through Grade 3, along with extended learning opportunities in afterschool and summer programs. Other components include an expanded full-day kindergarten program and strengthened curriculum, class size reductions, and linkages with preschool education and community health services in Montgomery County.

The new centers will add a coordinated approach to early literacy instruction in pre-kindergarten classrooms,
child care and home environments, as well as provide ongoing professional development for teachers at each center. Each center will focus on:

* Nurturing children's oral language and vocabulary development through book-related strategies, such as dialogic reading and Building Language for Literacy activities. The centers also will engage children in a content-rich environment that that invites exploration of books and language development.

* Providing books, writing materials and meaningful activities that engage children in age-appropriate literacy development.

* Involving parents and caregivers in child literacy development.

The grant to MCPS is the fifth largest of the 30 federal grants totaling more than $72 million that are authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to support local efforts to improve language and pre-reading skills of young children.

The centers will be located at Brookhaven, Harmony Hills, Viers Mill, Weller Road and Wheaton Woods elementary schools. Existing Head Start and Extended Elementary Education (EEEP) programs will be included, as well as an existing Preschool Education Program (PEP).

In addition, two child care programs will be collaborating with Early Reading First centers: Bright Eyes Child Care, whose program is located in the Viers Mill Elementary School building, and RDCA/Weller Road Child Care, located at Connecticut Park Center, which will collaborate with Weller Road, Harmony Hills and Wheaton Woods elementary schools.

The Head Start, EEEP and PEP programs enroll up to 40 percent of the total number of children who will enter the five elementary school kindergartens. About 300 students will be enrolled in the five Early Reading First centers, with targeted outreach efforts extending to all of the nearly 800 children who enroll each year in the five kindergartens. Currently, children in the five schools attend the MCPS pre-kindergarten programs from two and one-half to three and one-half hours a day, five days a week. The curriculum is based on state of Maryland and MCPS standards.

In the ERF centers, the curriculum will be enhanced through continuous professional development that will focus on use of research-based strategies to promote oral language, phonological awareness, concepts of print and knowledge of the alphabet.

Pam Prue, director of the Division of Early Childhood Programs and Services, and Claudia Nash Simmons, Head Start/EEEP coordinator, will serve as coordinators of the project. An ERF project director will be hired. An early childhood literacy specialist will conduct a summer institute for all ERF professional staff, including child care teachers and community partners, and will supplement the training by leading monthly seminars.

Teacher-mentors assigned to each at the centers will work directly with Head Start, EEEP, PEP and child care staff in the classroom to coach, model, provide feedback and ensure that instructional plans integrate assessment information. A curriculum alignment specialist will be responsible for ensuring that all related programs reflect program goals and strategies, and continuity with MCPS pre-kindergarten instructional objectives.

To extend the impact of the program to preschool children who are not in the Early Reading First classrooms, ERF center programs will offer early literacy instruction to parents and other caregivers. They also will be able to participate in complementary, coordinated programs conducted by the Montgomery County Departments of Health and Human Services and the public libraries.

In addition to the Early Reading First grant, MCPS also plans to apply for a Reading First grant to fund programs for elementary schools in the Wheaton and Einstein high school clusters. Reading First programs would focus initially on kindergarten and first grade, with the second and third grade added later.

More information about the federal initiative Early Reading First is available at the link below. Resource publications for parents and early childhood educators may be downloaded or ordered through the second link below.

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