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How Gainesville schools use literacy grant funding to complement wraparound services

Officials with Gainesville City Schools are seeing the intangibles of a multimillion-dollar literacy grant solidify just as the tangible aspects of their work begin to show through new programs and efforts to better grow the reading habits among students.

“I wonder sometimes, if to the external eye, it’s a little difficult to point to tangible things so far,” Deputy Superintendent Sarah Bell said.

So how does she respond?

“That just takes time,” Bell said.

Time to plan, time to review data, time to develop partnerships in the community.

“Sometimes you do have to be very deliberate in your planning for things to be successful,” Bell said. “I’m glad to finally see this rolling.”

Gainesville City Schools were awarded a $2.8 million Literacy for Learning, Living and Leading in Georgia grant last year to improve literacy for all students and expand professional development for teachers leading this charge. The funding is spread over three years.

School officials said they are at the midpoint of the first year, and already growth is occurring in reading and language arts competency, particularly with new supports for struggling readers at the middle and high school levels.

Gainesville City Schools officials have been busy. They worked with local nonprofits to implement the Talk with Me Baby young reading program. They purchased books for students to keep and read during mid-year and summer breaks. They launched training for schools and community groups to assist in mentoring, with a particular focus on African-American males. They have begun tackling “literacy deserts” in low-income neighborhoods through it Books and Barbers initiative, and 11 school employees and two Boys and Girls Club employees have been trained to be trainers in youth mental health first aid.

“Those are some of the key things this grant will allow us to do,”  said Priscilla Collins, chief professional services officer for Gainesville City Schools.

With a new semester now underway, Collins said the first-aid training would be expanded to all secondary staff members; elementary counselors and mentors will be provided with books that specifically support social and emotional development needs; and Gainesville City Schools will host a spring event for families focused on behavioral and mental health.

It’s these components that tie the literacy grant to a larger, holistic approach to student and family services that Gainesville City Schools launched in the last 12 months.

For many educators, “wraparound” services come part and parcel with improved safety and security in schools by providing additional counseling and support for basic needs.

Gainesville City Schools, for example, added new social workers to its roster in 2018, and some of its schools are working to establish things like food pantries, clothing closets, and student and family resource centers within their walls.

“We intentionally, when we wrote the grant, focused on not just literacy, but also the wraparound piece,” Bell said. “Kids can’t concentrate on learning to read and becoming readers if their basic needs aren’t met. By concentrating more on the whole child, we can ensure more success from a literacy perspective.”

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