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The Arkansas Department of Education announced last Monday that it is distributing $5.5 million in federal funds to public schools around the state this year. The funding is part of a $38 million, five-year federal grant awarded by the United States Department of Education for the Arkansas Comprehensive Literacy State Development Program.

Local recipients include the Strong-Huttig School District, the Junction City School District and the El Dorado School District. Schools were chosen based of their applications for the Successful Outcomes for Arkansas Readers subgrant.

According to an ADE document, Strong-Huttig will receive $17,570 and the Junction City district will receive $36,926.28. Each school in the El Dorado district will receive a sum; Barton Junior High will receive $34,897, El Dorado High School will take in $51,730, Hugh Goodwin and Northwest Elementary Schools will each receive $24,799, Yocum Elementary will receive $29,982 and Washington Middle School will receive $32,614.

An ADE press release states that the funds are distributed to schools to develop literacy instruction plans across content areas, boost professional development opportunities, provide assistance to leadership related to the support, development, administration and evaluation of literacy initiatives, coordinate the involvement of early childhood educators, foster collaboration among stakeholders and build a culture of reading.

In addition to the 128 schools and districts set to receive funds, the Arkansas Imagination Library will also be granted $1.2 million.

Jeanie Strother, literacy chair for the El Dorado School district, said in an email to the News-Times that each school within the district will be able to utilize the money according to their needs and age groups.

“The schools will be doing similar programs and activities, but each one will differ according to grade-level needs and interests,” Strother said.

The funding is usable both on initiatives directly related to literacy, such as providing textbooks, as well as more broadly for things like professional development. This, according to Strother, allows the literacy program to expand on multiple fronts during the school year and beyond.

“I am excited about the possibility of securing release time for our teacher teams to move deeper into the PLC (Professional Learning Community) process. The grant provides money for substitutes.Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused delays in this area of the grant because there is a shortage of substitutes and priority has to be given to the multitude of tasks required to teach on-site, online, and [in] blended classes. However, other aspects of the grants help us with those tasks.We now have funds to provide access to books and other texts whether students are learning at school or online. In addition, we are excited that some of our funding can be utilized for creative summer literacy opportunities for our students,” Strother said.

Strother said that literacy remains a crucially important skill for students of all ages and lauded the funding for helping to provide support for it.

“Earmarking the funds for literacy emphasizes the important connection between learning to read and write and academic success. In essence, when literacy skills are strengthened, students have more opportunities to succeed in all other areas… Funding literacy has always been a top priority in our school district.These particular funds allow us to explore innovative ways to strengthen our current literacy program and to reach beyond the walls of our schools to enhance literacy development,” Strother said.

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