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VCU Awarded $4.4 Million to Promote Early Literacy

New Early Reading First grant is the 2nd awarded in Virginia

The Literacy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to boost language and early literacy skills of young children in Richmond Public Schools.

"We are committed to enhancing early literacy skills in neighborhoods that need additional support," said Joan A. Rhodes, an assistant professor in the VCU School of Education who is co-directing the three-year grant. "Intervention at the preschool level focuses on language and concept development, as well as phonological and print awareness, which are the foundation for children's long-term success in learning to read."

VCU competed nationally for the Early Reading First grant and was one of only 32 recipients this year. The 32 federal grants total more than $101.6 million. Only two such grants have been awarded in Virginia since the creation of this federal initiative, and VCU received both.

VCU's first grant -- Richmond Early Reading First -- is a collaboration among the VCU School of Education, the VCU School of Social Work, the Literacy Institute at VCU, community child care programs in VCU's Head Start program and Richmond Public Schools. That grant, worth $3.3 million, was awarded in 2004.

In the new project -- Partnership for Excellence in Early Language and Literacy Skills (PEELLS) -- The Literacy Institute will work with Richmond Public Schools to strengthen the early literacy component of Head Start and Virginia Preschool Initiative programs. It will reach 252 preschoolers each year. The Literacy Institute at VCU is a partnership between the Virginia Literacy Foundation, the VCU School of Education and the VCU Center for Public Policy.

"These university-community partnerships show VCU's commitment to young children's early development and learning through supporting their families and teachers," said School of Education Associate Professor Evelyn Reed-Victor, Ph.D.    

The grant will provide additional books and other educational materials to 14 classrooms in five elementary schools, professional development courses for teachers in early literacy, and family literacy specialists who can work with multilingual families to provide reading support for their children.

Early Reading First is designed to transform existing early education programs into centers of excellence that provide high-quality, early education to young children, especially those from low-income families. Its overall purpose is to prepare young children to enter kindergarten with the necessary language, cognitive and early literacy skills to prevent reading difficulties and to ensure school success.

"We want to make sure children enter elementary school ready to learn how to read," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in announcing the grant award. "Early Reading First uses research-based strategies to introduce young children to books and concepts like letters, sounds and vocabulary. These first years of life are critical for a child's development, and Early Reading First helps ensure children start life on the right track."

Rhodes is co-directing the grant with Reed-Victor and Virginia Board of Education President and Mark E. Emblidge, Ph.D., executive director of The Literacy Institute at VCU.

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About the Literacy Institute at VCUThe Literacy Institute at VCU – a partnership between the Virginia Literacy Foundation, VCU School of Education, and VCU Center for Public Policy – was formed in 2002 to ensure that Virginia's public policy makers are kept aware of the problem of illiteracy in the state and to directly combat that problem through research and development projects. With its partners' combined pedagogical and public policy expertise, the Institute has enjoyed great success in its fundraising efforts, which focus on state and federal grants and contracts to oversee research in literacy-related fields. The Institute is in a unique position to craft an agenda for adult literacy that will make an impact on policy makers at both the state and federal levels.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.