Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2001

school grant believed to be second largest ever

[01/23/01] Beechwood Elementary has been awarded two grants for reading and science totaling nearly $680,000. Vicksburg Warren School District officials believe the reading grant from federal sources, at $523,552.97, represents the second highest amount ever given public schools here.

“It is the largest, except for the magnet grant,” said Jimmie Mullins, the district’s assistant superintendent. The magnet grant, awarded to launch Bowmar and Grove Street elementaries as magnet schools in 1991, “was over a million dollars,” Mullins said, and was funded in $600,000 amounts over a two-year period.

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The Mississippi Reading Excellence Grant also will be spread out. To be paid through 2003, the money is to provide children in grades K-3 with readiness skills and support needed to read upon entering school; to teach every child to read proficiently and on level by the end of the third grade; and to use research-based methods to improve instruction.

“What it’s going to do is emphasize reading, reading, reading,” said Jeanne Chandler, theme coordinator at the K-4 school on Mississippi 27 and one of the grant’s three authors. “We’re going to be immersed in literature.”

Beechwood is one of seven elementaries in the Vicksburg Warren School District.

The grant will help fund staff development, classroom libraries, tutoring sessions and a summer reading camp. “We’re also going to have early intervention literacy programs working with day-care centers and Head Start,” said Sherrie Williams, the school’s lead reading teacher who helped write the grant. “Without the skill of reading, students will not have success in other areas. The earlier they begin, the more success they will have.”

Williams said she is thrilled with Beechwood’s funding. “It is absolutely the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done as an educator.”

Beechwood principal Jack Grogan, who also helped write the grant, said the money will fund programs not otherwise possible. “Any educator who works in the public schools always dreams of having more money to work with,” he said. “What it means to me personally is just a dream come true. What it will mean to our students and our teachers is we will all be working toward the same guideline that our state Department of Education wants, for every child to be a reader.

“There should not be any reason that we can’t have our students reading on grade level by the time they get to the third grade,” Grogan said. He estimated that about a fourth of Beechwood’s 680 students are not performing at grade level in reading.

“We will hopefully raise reading achievement at Beechwood, and it also will be a model for other schools to look at,” Mullins added.

The grant is part of $31.2 million awarded Mississippi’s Reading Excellence Program by the U.S. Department of Education. Its enabling legislation is the Reading Excellence Act, passed by Congress in 1998 after a challenge from former President Bill Clinton to every American to help all children become good readers.

“This is the first time that Mississippi’s ever been included,” Chandler said, adding that with 55 schools selected from 176 applicants, the process was highly competitive and difficult. “We had really complex directions to follow. … We’ve been working on this a long time.”

Beechwood also has received a $155,188.65 Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Grant, which the school will use over the next three years to strengthen its science program. The grant will fund a Galaxy Classroom, a skill- and content-based model using interactive videos, computers and hands-on science investigations.

“This is an excellent way to enrich our science component,” said Chandler, noting Beechwood’s math and science focus under the district’s School Choice plan. “And science is a great way to create knowledge.”