Calling Richmond County "one of the neediest" school districts in Georgia, state education officials awarded the system nearly $10 million in grants to ensure all children can read by third grade.
The district received grants for 22 elementary schools, more schools than any other county in Georgia. Also, Terrell Academy, a private school in Augusta, received a $200,000 grant.
The three-year grants will allow poorer and low-achieving schools to hire literacy coaches and provide instructional materials as part of the new Reading First program, which uses proven strategies to teach reading.
Qualified districts were encouraged to apply for the money, which originated through federal funds from President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. The Georgia Board of Education approved 74 reading grants for schools, totaling nearly $32 million.
"They had to qualify on the basis of low wealth and poor student achievement," said Dr. Ken. Proctor, the state's manager for the Reading First program.
Specifically, eligible school systems were identified based on the number of children reading below grade level, the number of economically disadvantaged children, number of schools on the state's needs-improvement list and whether they are designated an empowerment zone or enterprise community.
The Columbia County school district did not qualify for assistance.
But Richmond County educators were thrilled to get the help for 22 of the district's 35 elementary schools.
"I am convinced that having the reading specialist and the very best reading programs will help these schools to achieve the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act," said Virginia Bradshaw, the assistant superintendent for instruction.
Children who fail the upcoming curriculum test that allows for promotion to the fourth grade will be helped through other remediation programs, Dr. Bradshaw said.
Barton Chapel Elementary School, which received about $475,000, is completing the Reading Excellence program, which uses a literacy coach. Until now, only three county schools had a literacy coach.
"The literacy coach plays an important role in helping monitor our instruction program, helping train teachers ... and then modeling and demonstrating," Mr. Brown said.
Children who attend Barton Chapel generally do not have a print-rich environment, he said.
"What we try to do is make up the difference in the school by making students read in school and read a lot," the principal said.
Under the new grants, teachers will be required to provide pupils at least 135 minutes per day in reading instruction.
According to a U.S. Department of Education Web site, the Reading First program differs from earlier initiatives by establishing clear, specific expectations.
Reading First specifies that teachers' classroom instructional decisions must be informed by scientifically-based reading research.
In the program, children must be taught five key reading skills:
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The Georgia Department of Education has awarded reading grants to 23 elementary schools in Richmond County:
Barton Chapel $475,464
Glenn Hills $437,570
Monte Santo $346,430
Terrace Manor $371,104
Wilkinson Gardens $417,226
Willis Foreman $597,060
Windsor Spring $556,591
Terrell Academy $201,368