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$4.4 million grant supports early education outreach


September 13, 2007

A $4.4 million Early Reading First grant awarded to the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education will support a team of ASU researchers and community-based agencies in their efforts to improve the school readiness of nearly 1,000 culturally diverse children enrolled in 14 public and private preschool classrooms in Mohave County and the Fort Mohave Indian Nation.

The federal grant will fund the work of the Mohave Desert Early Literacy Coalition, a joint effort of ASU, the Bullhead City and Mohave Valley elementary school districts, the Western Arizona Council of Governments (WACOG) Head Start, Fort Mohave Indian Nation, and the Southwest Institute for Children and Families with Disabilities (SWI).

Jay Blanchard, a professor of psychology in education, and James Christie, a professor of curriculum and instruction with the Fulton College, worked with Karen Burstein of SWI to secure the grant.

Blanchard and Christie will spearhead the ASU components of the project as co-principal investigators. Cathy Otto, affiliated with the ASU Department of Speech and Hearing Science, also serves on the project team. She will coordinate coaching and family literacy activities.

The coalition is located in a remote area of the Mohave Desert, a federally designated rural empowerment zone/enterprise community that exhibits pervasive poverty, unemployment and well-documented educational challenges. About 90 percent of children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches, and 50 percent are English learners.

One solution for these educational challenges, according to Blanchard and Christie, is to take steps to ensure that the children living in this community enter formal schooling with the necessary cognitive, oral language and early reading skills needed to succeed.

“This three-year grant provides an opportunity for ASU faculty to work across Mohave County with teachers in public and private preschool classrooms,” Blanchard says. “The grant activities are designed to help preschool teachers prepare at-risk children for success in kindergarten and beyond.”

The coalition will use a multifaceted, science-based approach to help children learn and develop the skills that are vital to their academic achievement.

“This approach is driven on best practices, founded on scientific reading research and driven by ongoing assessment and progress monitoring,” Blanchard says.

Professional development, communication, assessment, and curriculum planning will be organized electronically using desktop videoconferencing. A formative and summative evaluation will determine program efficacy, cost effectiveness and changes to teaching practice.