Worcester Scores $1.2M Literacy Grant

NEWARK – Worcester County will receive a $1.2 million grant from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to aid in literacy efforts.

On Monday MSDE announced it was awarding $43.3 million in grants to local school systems. Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) is set to get $1.2 million to help update its literacy curriculum and expand reading programs.

“Reading is the most important thing we can do for our kids,” said WCPS Literacy and Title I Coordinator Dee Shorts.

According to MSDE, all 24 school systems received grants ranging from $1 million to $2.8 million. Amounts were determined by peer reviewers who looked at a variety of factors, including partnerships with nonprofit providers and use of strategic professional learning. Funding for the program came from the $45 million federal Striving Readers’ Comprehensive Literacy Grant that was awarded to MSDE last year.

“Better literacy programs will provide a stronger foundation for all learning throughout Maryland,” said Dr. Karen Salmon, Maryland’s superintendent of schools. “This important program will enhance learning at the local level and provide stronger professional development in all corners of the state.”

Shorts said that state officials asked local jurisdictions to submit grant applications for programs that would improve literacy from birth to 12th grade.

“We had to be very strategic around how we wrote the grant,” she said.

She said the school system was already preparing to update its literacy curriculum when it became aware of the grant opportunity. In the county’s application, officials explained how the school system would use funding to implement initiatives focused on three different age groups. For children from birth to age five, the school system proposed using the “Raising a Reader” program to encourage parents to read to their kids.

“This is a program that teaches parents to be the first teachers and embrace the culture of reading,” Shorts said.

For kids from kindergarten through fifth grade, the school system proposed using the “100 Book Challenge,” which gives kids the chance to pick out books to bring home.

“The kids are bringing the books home to read to the parents,” Shorts said. “It’s a bit of a role reversal.”

For the older students, WCPS outlined plans to hire two literacy coaches to help with reading. Shorts said all initiatives WCPS proposed have been proven effective.

“Everything had to be evidence based,” she said.

In the end the county submitted an application for $1.5 million and was awarded $1.2 million. Shorts said the school system would make up the difference by cutting out some of the less essential materials associated with the programs.

“We’re super excited about the possibilities,” she said. “This came at a great time. This grant is really going to be able to move us forward.”

When asked whether the new reading initiatives would be sustainable once the three-year grant expired, Shorts said for the most part they would be. The materials purchased will remain the school system’s in the future. To maintain the two literacy coaches, however, additional funding would have to be obtained.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.