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Schools receive $16.6 million grant

By Chloe Johnson

Staff Intern

SPRINGFIELD "The eyes of the nation are upon you all," Margaret Spellings, the United States Secretary of Education said, as she and Senator Edward Kennedy announced on March 3 that Springfield and Chicopee public schools will receive a $16.6 million federal grant to improve reading skills.

Being among the first in the nation to recieve this federal grant, Kennedy and Spellings spoke of the importance of literacy among high school students at Springfield High School of Technology and Science.

"Education is the key to the future and we are thrilled that with this grant we can continue to work on reading skills necessary for students to be successful," Spellings said.

The grant, that will be used to improve the literacy skills of struggling adolescents, was awarded to Springfield and Chicopee public schools as part of the Striving Readers Program under the United States Department of Education.

Out of 148 applicants for the grant, Springfield and Chicopee public schools, who will split the grant, are one of the eight school systems nationally that are being rewarded with this multi-year commitment.

"It's a tremendous thing. It clearly addresses the fundamentals that if you can't read then you won't go far," Mayor Charles Ryan of Springfield said.

Serving over 7,000 students in Springfield and Chicopee high schools from grades 9-11, the grant will be support a five year plan for reading interventions for students who have difficulty reading as well as the support for training teachers in reading strategies and bringing reading to the forefront of high school curriculum, Kennedy said.

"It poses a serious problem when half of the young people graduating from high school are reading a level below what they should be," said Kennedy. "Six million students in middle and high schools are reading below grade level."

Better literacy skills open up more opportunities for these students, for the community, and for the nation, Kennedy said.

Focusing on a program that addresses the needs of adolescent literacy, the Bush Administration's Striving Reader's Program, helps schools to improve the literacy skills of adolescent students who struggle with reading. The program also plans to train more than 500 teachers, 10 literacy coaches and will employ two targeted interventions for struggling readers.

With the overall grant money for the eight schools being $30 million, each school had to have middle and high school students in Title I-eligible schools that serves a large number of students who are reading below grade level and at risk of dropping out of school.

"It gives a unique opportunity to get young people to read better to allow them to graduate and to get the skills they need to be successful," Springfield Superintendent of Schools, Joseph Burke said.

According to Kennedy, the process of being rewarded with the grant was highly competitive and said that it's a great achievement for Chicopee and Springfield public schools.

"They've earned this: being able to expand the program and getting results," said Michael Bissonnette, Mayor of Chicopee. "This grant is very exciting."

"We worked together and shared, and something good happened," Chicopee Superintendent of Schools Richard Rege said about the strong partnership between Springfield and Chicopee.

The evaluation of the program will be conducted by Brown University's Education Alliance over the course of the five year grant.

Along with Springfield and Chicopee public schools, Chicago Public Schools was awarded $24.5 million; Danville (Ken.) School District was awarded $16.2 million; Multnomah County (Portland, Ore.) School District was awarded $23.5 million; Newark Public Schools was awarded $13.9 million; Ohio Department of Youth Services was awarded $14 million; Sand Diego Unified School District was awarded $17.5 million; and Memphis City Schools was awarded $16 million.

The Striving Readers Program will begin immediately and is expected to be in full bloom by fall of '06, Spellings said.

For more information regarding the Striving Readers program, visit