Grant targets young readers

Published 9:39 am Thursday, September 15, 2016

CHAPEL HILL – Bertie County Schools has received a $281,593 grant from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to fund a Targeted Reading Intervention for elementary school students.

Twenty-five Bertie County teachers will receive live webcam coaching to boost their support for struggling elementary school readers as part of a new partnership with UNC-CH researchers.

Teachers from four elementary schools will participate in the Targeted Reading Intervention program offered through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and School of Education.

UNC-based literacy coaches will use webcams starting in October to deliver real-time feedback and support to teachers working in 15-minute one-on-one sessions with students.

The Targeted Reading Intervention already has helped more than 2,600 students across North Carolina.

Nationwide research conducted over the past decade has shown the Targeted Reading Intervention rapidly improves student reading for both struggling and non-struggling readers compared with their peers.

Based on that strong track record, the intervention program is one of few literacy initiatives endorsed by organizations like the Pew Charitable Trusts, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Rand Corporation.

The UNC system’s NC Quest Program, which administers federal funds to train and support North Carolina teachers, has awarded UNC-Chapel Hill a $281,593 grant to fund the Targeted Reading Intervention in Bertie County. Those teachers will receive training and materials, as well as yearlong literacy coaching and professional development.

“We have wanted to provide the Targeted Reading Intervention in Bertie County for a long time,” said Lynne Vernon-Feagans, the UNC-Chapel Hill researcher who developed the webcam approach. “We are thrilled that we will be able to work with all of Bertie County Schools’ kindergarten, first-, and second-grade teachers and their struggling readers.”

Interim Bertie County Superintendent Julian Walker said he was excited to hear that Bertie County received this grant on Sep 8.

“This will move our schools to a higher level,” he said, indicating that the younger students achieve literacy, the better they do in the higher grades.

Elaine White, former superintendent of Bertie County Schools while working to acquire this grant before retiring in June said, the UNC project would help address the district’s goal of improving students’ reading and writing outcomes.

“Improving reading achievement for young struggling readers allows them to get a great start in their education,” White stated.

The project’s webcam approach has the potential to place North Carolina teachers among the nation’s elite in reading instruction, said Vernon-Feagans, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Applied Developmental Sciences and Special Education in the UNC School of Education.

Instead of schools employing additional specialists, hiring more one-on-one tutors, buying a new curriculum, or paying experts to travel to remote rural areas, a single half-time coach can work with up to 15 teachers by webcam.

Elizabeth Cutrer, the intervention director, has coached teachers across the state from the other end of the webcam.

“This is far more than a reading intervention,” she said. “The Targeted Reading Intervention helps teachers really learn how to teach reading. Their relationships with students take off, and the teachers see magical things.”

To date, 19 N.C. schools have used the webcam project. Because even most rural schools have online access to free FaceTime or Skype services, Vernon-Feagans said webcam coaching could be effective in rural and non-rural schools throughout North Carolina and beyond.

White and Vernon-Feagans designed the project so that Bertie County can continue to use the Targeted Reading Intervention long after funding ends.

“At the end of the year, the teachers who participate will be eligible to become certified in the Targeted Reading Intervention,” White said. “We will support them as they become teacher leaders for our district.”