by Colton Campbell

Three west Georgia entities - including the University of West Georgia - have been awarded a nearly $74,000 grant for early language and literacy from the Georgia Governor's Office of Student Achievement and the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy.

CCEC, community partners awarded $74K grant

The grant awarded to UWG, Carrollton City Schools and the Carroll County Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy - through relationships established within the collaborative structure of the Carrollton-Carroll County Education Collaborative (CCEC) - will provide funds for the launch of an early learning campaign in Carroll County.

The initiative is intended to introduce parents and caregivers of young children, as well as other community members, to the importance of early language acquisition and arm them with skills to support their children's literacy development so they are ready to learn when they start kindergarten.

"Since its inception, the CCEC has had a focus on secondary education and ensuring high school students are ready for college and a career," said Dr. John Green, CCEC director. "We've realized recently that's a little short-sighted because a child's educational journey doesn't start when they're a freshman in high school. How a child develops from birth until age 3 is a huge predictor for the rest of their life's success, and this grant will allow us to reach those younger children who are just starting out on that journey, where we can do some truly transformative work."

The $73,762 grant will allow the three entities to implement different initiatives and programs with the common goal of improving the percentage of Carroll County students who are reading at their grade level by third grade.

"That's a big indicator and is really where the idea to award these grants came from," said Dr. Melanie McClellan, director of community engagement at UWG. "Right now, only about one-third of Carroll County's third-graders are reading at grade level, and that's the state average as well."

The CCEC will work with UWG's College of Social Sciences Center for Research to conduct a study on non-educational services offered in Carroll County that affect a child's quality of life from birth until age 5. That research will include identifying and mapping those services, as well as finding where gaps may be and how to address those insufficiencies.

"We'll be determining what services may be missing or what services may overlap and use that data for future planning," McClellan said. "We hope this will decrease the burden on those individual organizations to collect data, thus allowing them to focus their efforts on improving services."

UWG's College of Education will use the funds to develop online modules about early language to be used by high school students who have chosen early learning careers.

"Because students who complete the early childhood education pathway often go directly into child care services such as a daycare provider or paraprofessional, it is essential these students are well prepared in early learning and literacy development through their pathway courses," said Dr. Laura Smith, director of the Comprehensive Community Clinic at UWG. "These modules will be implemented through a pilot phase across five high schools in the Douglas County School system, with the ultimate goal to implement them statewide."

Carrollton City Schools will expand their Kindergarten Boot Camp for approximately 100 preschoolers to ensure they are prepared for their first day of kindergarten during a four-week summer session that focuses on their language and literacy.

"Families of the participating students will learn and use language nutrition with their children and share this learning with neighbors and relatives in order for families to better support their children," said Karen Wild, director of school improvement at Carrollton City Schools. "This collaborative grant will facilitate connections between these incredible entities that will expand the opportunity to prepare children to enter school ready to learn."

The Ferst Foundation will use the funds to work with other community partners to help parents with the concept of language nutrition, or language development. This "train the trainer" approach will use the foundation's existing network of community partners to reach out to many Carroll County parents who may not be practicing effective language nutrition techniques in their children's everyday lives.

"Let's say a parent doesn't know how to read or isn't confident enough in their own literacy to teach their child how to read effectively," McClellan said. "Working through the community organizations the Ferst Foundation already leans on, they'll be able to train the trainer to get the parents involved in ensuring their children can read proficiently."

In addition to the CCEC grant, another west Georgia entity - Whitesburg Elementary - received $6,600 in the grant program to implement a Very Important Preschoolers program in which parents of children aged 3-5 years will be offered monthly literacy workshops and provided with take-home activities to practice the workshop content.

The CCEC is a partnership among Carroll County's major educational and civic entities that takes a wide-ranging approach - from preschool to college graduation - to improving educational success in the community.

Green said the work that will be completed thanks to the $80,000 worth of grant money that's been awarded to Carroll County from the governor's office is "what the CCEC is all about."

"We're here to set up an environment in which our community partners can form relationships with one another and then hold each other accountable for the results," Green said. "Each child has their own personal journey, and we're here to make sure that journey is as customized and successful as it can be. The only way that can be done is by breaking down the silos that exist in a community and creating an environment that nurtures that kind of growth."

Posted on February 1, 2018