New ‘Good to Great’ grants seek to boost early literacy

Ten elementary schools will have their 18-month projects funded and evaluated.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Ten elementary schools have received grants from the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia with the goal of strengthening early literacy programs. The new “Good to Great” grants, which range in size from $20,000 to nearly $75,000, were funded by the William Penn Foundation.

The grants, which totaled nearly $536,000, were designed to help schools tackle challenges faced by particular student populations, and they focused on grade-level reading proficiency by 3rd grade. The District already has early-learning initiatives and is committed to reading proficiency for all students, but the grants were meant to give schools funding for projects that would assist them in ways that work for each school.

A grant review team from the District and the Fund narrowed the 78 applicants down to 20 finalists, then chose the winning schools. The schools came up with projects with specific outcome goals and outlined how their proposed ideas would contribute to increased reading proficiency.

Because all elementary school teachers in the District received the same training, the Fund wanted to create a more individualized grant program, according to president and CEO Donna Frisby-Greenwood.

“Rather than just do something across the board for every school, it’s now time for schools to take a look at their data and figure out what they can do specifically to address those areas where they need to improve,” said Frisby-Greenwood.

“The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia developed this smart new grant program as a way to help schools build on the progress they have already shown in implementing the School District’s comprehensive early literacy framework,” said Elliot Weinbaum of the William Penn Foundation. “By giving individual schools the resources to implement the specific early-literacy intervention that their students most need, these grants will address the diversity and nuances that exist in every classroom and school and certainly within a large urban school system.”

The grants will last 18 months. Then the Fund will evaluate their impact. If the grants appear to be effective, the Fund would like to do “many, many more of them,” said Frisby-Greenwood.

The following District elementary schools were selected for the first round of grants::

  • Alexander K. McClure School: $45,855.72; enhancing classroom libraries with additional reading collections.
  • F. Amedee Bregy School: $57,654.99; books and resources to build The Nest, a dedicated family library.
  • General George G. Meade School: $40,000; on-site professional development, materials, and resources to support the launch of writing workshops for teachers and students.
  • Henry C. Lea School: $68,449.20; enhancing classroom libraries with additional reading collections.
  • James Logan School: $67,352.22; books and technology to implement the already-successful 5th-grade journalism program in its K-3 curriculum to support writing instruction.
  • John H. Taggart School: $74,158.20; professional development for teachers, and technology and reading resources for English for Speakers of Other Languages classrooms.
  • Lewis Elkin School: $19,995.58; resources and professional development to expand phonics instruction.
  • Olney School: $74,880.80; smartboards for all 11 K-2 classrooms to enhance literacy instruction.
  • Watson Comly School: $37,762.26; work with Columbia Teachers’ College for professional development and resources to support teachers in writing instruction.
  • William H. Ziegler School: $49,718.00; support for the 100 Book Challenge program and a library self-checkout kiosk to build a culture of reading.