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Major grant to Norwalk schools targets achievement gap

By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s early childhood intervention programs are being woven into one web designed to reach all of the city’s youngest children, thanks to a grant announced at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

The “gold standard” funded by the Grossman Family Foundation will put Norwalk ahead of “what a lot of other urban districts are doing in terms of addressing the really deep needs of literacy and reading at our pre-K and 3 levels,” board member Sue Haynie said.

Officials did not release the amount of the grant, which is being distributed to the ChildFIRST program, Parents as Teachers program and community literacy programs.

“We were approved for one year of funding for this proposal, with four years of future proposals in the works, assuming we accomplish all the results we set out to perform,” said schools Grants Administrator Italia Negroni. The goal is for collaboration that will form “all early care and education into a consolidated system of services and data management for all children through 8 years old throughout the entire city.”

ChildFIRST works to intervene during the first years of a child’s life, addressing “very high risk” children, said Victoria Shilling of the Norwalk Healthy Families Collaborative. The efforts ultimately addressed the achievement gap, she added.

The grant is funding another clinician and another care coordinator, bringing the staff up to six members. This will get people off a waiting list and into programs, Gail Melanson of the Child Guidance Center.

The grant is paying for five parent educators for the Parents as Teachers program, which sends workers into people’s homes at least once a month to aid families with literacy and language development, said Mary Oster of the Norwalk Early Childhood Council. Three new educators already have been hired and trained. The grant also will  fund group activities for parents.

The grant also is providing Wireless Generation online assessments for children at three schools. (A fourth is paid for through a state department grant, officials said.) There is hope of creating literacy sites at the schools, allowing teachers to observe the methods being used.

BOE Chairman Mike Lyons thanked the Grossman Family Foundation. “At a time when it is difficult to meet budget challenges,” he said, “getting private support like this is really opening up some of opportunities for us that probably would not be able to happen otherwise.”

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