Grant provides reading help $250,000 will finance daily tutoring of faltering pupils

January 23, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Children who lag behind in reading skills in kindergarten and first grade will be getting extra one-on-one help starting this spring through a $250,000 federal grant just awarded to Carroll County schools.

The money will be used to provide daily tutoring for 15 to 20 minutes for pupils who are in the lowest 25 percent of the class in reading skills.

"We wanted to advance those lowest-performing children, so they can exit first grade as competent and confident readers," said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary education. Mangle wrote the grant proposal for the project, called Advancing Early Literacy.

"If they don't leave first grade having established those critical reading skills, they'll always be playing catch-up after that," she said.

By second and third grades, pupils should be reading in all subjects to gain information. The presumption is that they know how to read, and they become responsible for knowing the content of what teachers assign them to read.

The grant is for the rest of this school year and for next year, but with a chance to seek renewal. Mangle is moving quickly: Teachers will start assessing children next month, and those needing help the most will be identified in March and April.

"If we can demonstrate we've made a positive difference, we can reapply for a continuance," Mangle said. "This could take us to 2001."

Mangle said that despite Carroll's many successes and good reputation, too many children aren't reaching their potential to read, based on state and national tests.

"The progress, if you look at the other content areas, is greater than in reading," she said. "Even though we are at the top of the state [in overall performance, just behind Howard County], we only have 49 percent of our third-graders reading at the satisfactory level."

Mangle wants to see 95 percent of those children reading at grade level. She said research by the National Institute of Health indicates that such a high rate is possible if children get the help they need early.

Teacher training

The grant includes training for Carroll teachers in early literacy, in cooperation with Western Maryland College and Towson University.

Parents will be included to help them prepare children from infancy to develop language skills, and others in the community could be involved, too.

For example, parents of toddlers could be shown how reading to children helps prepare them to be better readers, and retired teachers could be called upon to volunteer as tutors.

Some kindergartners enter school not knowing how to hold a book and turn pages, Mangle said. They don't know that letters stand for sounds, that letters form words, or that the way to read a book is to start at the top of the left side of the first page and progress to the right and down.

"We can't wait until they're 5 years old and they come to school," she said. "Language is pretty much established by age 3."

Children whose parents read to them or expose them to books and a broad vocabulary early have something to build on and do well, she said.

Statewide, the challenge has been to bring up reading and other scores for the lowest-performing children. The average- to higher-performing children have made great strides on the Maryland School Performance and Assessment Tests.

To target children in the toddler years, Mangle sought input from local agencies whose staff come in contact with the youngsters and their parents. Agencies such as the county Health Department, Department of Social Services, 4-H and the YMCA wrote letters supporting the grant application.

Agency referrals

Donna Hopkins, director of nursing for the Department of Health, said her staff helps families with all kinds of needs by recommending other resources.

"We have public health nurses in maternal and child health, and we're always there to assist if we discover a need. Our staff do encourage parents to spend time with children and read with them. We have referred them to Head Start, too."

The Advancing Early Literacy grant was awarded earlier this month by the state Department of Education, using federal Goals 2000 money. Five other school systems in the state received grants of $250,000 each for their own proposals. Those systems are Dorchester, Kent, Washington and Worcester counties and Baltimore City public schools.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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