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USF aims to improve second-graders' reading skills

The program, funded by a grant from the Verizon Foundation, will help develop new teaching strategies.

By MONIQUE FIELDS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 19, 2002

The program, funded by a grant from the Verizon Foundation, will help develop new teaching strategies.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg is about to help change the reading instruction delivered to Pinellas County second-graders.

The college has received a $125,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation and plans to use the money to train teachers at three Pinellas elementary schools who will then use what they learn to better teach reading to their students.

USF St. Petersburg officials said instruction for second-graders will be especially important with the governor's new policy of retaining third-graders who are not proficient readers.

"Those children need support in the second grade," said Barbara Frye, who wrote the grant and is an associate professor at USF.

Others agreed.

"We really have to look at classroom instruction, what's happening in the classroom, and that is part of the governor's initiative also," said Deanna Texel, co-supervisor of Pinellas elementary reading and language arts.

Johnnie Byrd, Florida House speaker designate, echoed the governor's vision for literacy at the grant's announcement Thursday afternoon.

"I guarantee you that it will affect juvenile crime and it will help them in high school," he said in an interview.

Verizon wants to help make sure that youngsters can read a prescription or fill out a job application when they grow up, said John Blanchard, president of the Southeast Region of Verizon's Public Policy and External Affairs.

The grant is a two-part effort in helping improve reading achievement.

Part of the grant will help Lakewood Elementary School -- where 79 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches -- become involved with the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, or CIERA. The center is part of a national reform effort that helps instructors at all grade levels develop better strategies for teaching reading.

Lakewood principal Ray Tampa said he was delighted with the grant because it puts teaching strategies in the hands of teachers.

"That's where the rubber meets the road in the classroom," he said. "You have to have effective strategies utilized in the the classroom for high student achievement."

The second part of the grant is aimed at early intervention in second-grade and will be implemented at Campbell Park and Fairmount Park elementary schools, as well as Lakewood. The grant will fund a reading mentor who will coach teachers and help them create a model to reach struggling readers and boost their progress.

Eventually, school district administrators hope all Pinellas elementary schools will use the strategies the teachers learn.

The Verizon Foundation is a philanthropic arm of Verizon communications. In the last four years, it has granted $525,000 to the USF's College of Education. Last year, it also granted $25,000 to the Pinellas Education Foundation, and Verizon's Commercial Markets, a business unit of the company, donated a total of $17,000 to 17 north Pinellas schools.

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