UNL, South Sioux City Schools Partner in $2.6 Million Reading Skills Project

• August 27, 2004 • Comments (0)

LOS ANGELES – (August 27, 2004) – Once a child falls behind in learning to read, she can spend the rest of her life struggling to learn. A new program developed by University of Nebraska-Lincoln education researchers that aims to give every child a good start by teaching essential early reading skills will be piloted in South Sioux City pre-schools.

“Often pre-schools don’t emphasize early literacy instruction, so kids go to kindergarten unprepared for learning to read and they are already falling behind,” said Ron Nelson, co-director of UNL’s Center for At-Risk Children’s Services. “Our program focuses on those important pre-reading skills and follow-up to make sure the kids are prepared.”

A $2.6 million grant from the U.S Department of Education Early Reading First program will fund the project, called Portales a Aprender Leer (Portals to Reading) in five South Sioux City pre-schools serving predominantly Spanish-speaking children and their families. The project is a partnership between UNL and the South Sioux City Community Schools. Nelson and Michael Epstein, his co-director at the Center for At-Risk Children’s Services, a research center in UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences, lead the project. Jorge Gonzalez, formerly a post-doctoral researcher in the Center and now at Texas A&M University, worked with Nelson and Epstein in developing the program and will help in its implementation.

The three-level program offers teachers new methods and curriculum aimed at developing early reading skills. The first level is a core pre-school curriculum, developing cognitive, social and literacy skills. The second and third levels involve interventions to help children who aren’t making sufficient progress.

“We have well-defined benchmarks that help us identify kids who are falling behind,” Nelson said. When this happens, teachers will use the Stepping Stones to Literacy program, developed by Nelson, to work one-on-one with students to teach key pre-reading skills.

A comprehensive evaluation of the program’s effectiveness is a critical part of the grant, Nelson said. “Our project is one of several model demonstration sites throughout the country, and the Center for At-Risk Children’s Services will serve as the lead evaluator for the other sites,” he said.

“Our goal is to give kids a much better start in kindergarten by focusing intensely on teaching these early reading skills. We believe our program will prove to be a great way to do that,” Nelson said.

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