Athens City School District is “anxiously waiting” to possibly apply for part of the $35 million Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant that the Ohio Department of Education received in the beginning of October. 

The $35 million Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant was awarded to the department from the U.S. Department of Education to build on “ongoing work to improve the language and literacy development of our state’s children,” according to a news release. The department will be releasing information about how schools in the state can apply for those grants in the coming weeks, Brittany Halpin, associate director for media relations for the Ohio Department of Education, said in an email. 

Athens City School District started introducing new reading and writing literacy programs to improve those skills within the schools. Teachers in each building in the district have been trained to implement a new reading program and writing program, called Orton-Gillingham and Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop respectively, in the 2017-18 school year to help students.

Orton-Gillingham, a training program and certification provided by Institute for Multi-Sensory Education, equips educators with strategies they can use to “effectively intervene” at the at-risk level, according to the institute’s website. Thomas Gibbs, superintendent of the district, said schools in the district use the Orton-Gillingham approach along with other writing workshops to address issues students with learning disabilities, like dyslexia, have. 

“There's several specific learning disabilities where that type of instruction is effective,” Gibbs said. “Dyslexia is one that is most common. It resonates with people.” 

Gibbs said the district has been working to improve writing within the schools by implementing the Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop. Over the summer, the district brought in trainers from Columbia University to train teachers in the writer's workshop. 

The writing workshop is a series of reading experiences where a common vocabulary is used and teachers talk to students about them being writers, Gibbs said.

“It's not restrictive,” Gibbs said. “It's not a direct target approach. The kids can go practically anywhere with their ideas within whatever type of writing they're doing at the time.”

Before Athens City School District introduced the Orton-Gillingham training and Lucy Calkins Writer’s Workshop, the district used a reading program called Reading Street. Reading Street provided lesson plans that meet Common Core standards.

The last full textbook adoption the district used, which included Reading Street, cost the district $600,000, Gibbs said. He said the new workshops introduced will be cheaper than a textbook adoption because the materials that need to be purchased will include office supplies and teacher classroom kits, along with other administrative costs. 

The literacy grant the Ohio Department of Education received for literacy programs is of interest to the district, but Gibbs said the district is waiting to see what the guidelines are. In the past, Gibbs said, the district was excluded from applying for grants because it could not meet the wealth index set by the state, or it could not show a high enough need for improvement compared to other schools in Ohio. He is also waiting to see if the programming restrictions attached to the grant will “philosophically match” where the district is headed. 

“If they're going to fund teacher-centered direct instruction reading programs, we're not interested,” Gibbs said. “If they're going to allow districts to choose research-based reading and language arts programs they feel fits best with their local community, and we can use that to help fund the direction we're already headed, we're definitely applying.”


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