Category: News || By Jennifer Sopko
McKeesport Area School District will apply a half-million dollar state grant to improving literacy among pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade.
At the school board's Oct 24. meeting, Elementary Reading Coordinator Amy Dellapenna said a $529,260 Keystones to Opportunity Grant awarded to the district will be used to improve literacy outcomes "for all children, including disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students and students with disabilities."
Pennsylvania was one of six states awarded this funding, which is part of a competition initiated by the U.S. Department of Education under its Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program. Out of a total $180 million awarded, Pennsylvania schools received $38 million in funding. The award was originally announced at the board's April meeting.
According to Dellapenna, who served as the grant's project manager, the state Department of Education invited over 550 educational agencies statewide to submit an application for this competitive grant. Out of the 329 pre-applications received, 148 were invited to submit final applications.
As a result of the stringent two-part application process, only 50 educational agencies were selected to receive a portion of the $38 million awarded to Pennsylvania, including MASD.
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District Grants and Special Projects Coordinator Patricia Scales led a grant team comprised of administrators, teachers and other representatives from all grade levels through the application process, Dellapenna said. The two-part process included the completion of a local literacy needs assessment based on data gathered from four target groups: birth through age five, elementary, middle and high school.
The grant team used this information to prioritize areas of intervention and subsequently target specific funding areas. Although the grant team applied for funding for both grades K-5 and grades 6-8, the district was only awarded the grant for grades K-5.
"Funds were targeted to support programs that advanced literacy skills through professional development, screening and intervention, targeted intervention and other research-based methods of improving classroom instruction and practice," Dellapenna said.
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Professional development for teachers will be provided by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and will focus on several content areas with the goal of strengthening elementary literacy practices, Dellapenna said. Teachers will also be supported in their administration of literacy assessments, student achievement monitoring and classroom instruction analysis.
Another focus of the grant will be to improve classroom instruction by aligning the district's curriculum with state standards and developing a comprehensive local literacy plan for grades K-12.
In addition, the district also increased the literacy block to 120 minutes across all elementary buildings, including a 40 minute block for small group intervention and in-class enrichment, according to Dellapenna.
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The team will continue to provide updates on the implementation of grants through the district's website and newsletter and at future meetings, Dellapenna said.
"We need the support of our community to raise successful readers," she said.
Literacy was a recurring topic at the school board meeting. Another project recently in the works was a Halloween book drive led by retired Centennial kindergarten teacher Joan Burns.
As part of a service project for the McKeesport chapter of Altrusa International, a volunteer community service organization founded in 1917, Burns worked with the McKeesport Area Education Association to solicit donations of books from teachers through the district for students from pre-school through sixth grade.
School Board President Patricia Maksin, a fellow Altrusa member, explained that the group's most recent service project was focused on literacy and so the group came up with the idea of getting books into the hands of students by means of Halloween parades.
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Over the course of two weeks, according to Burns, Altrusa collected 600 to 700 books in excellent shape from the school district staff, which were passed out during Halloween parades on Saturday, November 3 in three of the district's communities: McKeesport, Dravosburg and White Oak.
She said the goal of the service project was a simple one: "We wanted to get books into our community."
Maksin commended Burns' work in coordinating the successful service project.
"It was a great community service project that we did," Burns said. "It was wonderful."