Orange, Petersham schools receive state grants to bolster reading skills

Students on the playground at Orange’s Fisher Hill Elementary School. Orange and Petersham will receive a combined $134,530 in state money to implement a package of materials for teaching foundational reading skills in kindergarten through second grade.

Students on the playground at Orange’s Fisher Hill Elementary School. Orange and Petersham will receive a combined $134,530 in state money to implement a package of materials for teaching foundational reading skills in kindergarten through second grade. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI and MAX BOWEN

Staff Writers

Published: 06-10-2024 11:44 AM

Orange and Petersham will receive a combined $134,530 in state money to implement a package of materials for teaching foundational reading skills in kindergarten through second grade.

The two North Quabbin towns are among the 18 school districts and collaboratives selected to split $1.2 million in grants for Appleseeds, a free downloadable package of instructional materials for reading foundational skills. The grants will fund printing of the materials, plus professional development for educators. Orange will get $91,144, while Petersham gets $43,386.

Elizabeth Zielinski, superintendent of the Ralph C. Mahar Regional and Union 73 school districts, said the latter will use the money to provide the Appleseeds program to preschool students. The grant money will cover the cost of required training and student materials.

“It’s not discrepancy money at all. It is very specific,” she said on Thursday.

Zielinski lauded the merits of the evidence-based reading foundational skills program.

“We don’t want to go and reinvent the wheel,” she said. “We want to go with programs with really good results.”

“This Appleseeds grant is an important part of our administration’s commitment to improving early literacy instruction,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement. “We also recently proposed Literacy Launch in our latest budget, a historic investment in early literacy from age 3 to grade 3, on top of additional funding for continued literacy programming from [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education].”

Aaron O’Connor, principal of Petersham Center School, said the funds will be used to purchase Decodables, a text that focuses on the phonetic code and presents words to students that follow the lessons taught, as well as professional development for teachers. He said the school uses the University of Florida Literacy Institute’s early literacy program, but that it works with Appleseeds.

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“We’re working with the core teachers and laying out the lessons we are using for the year,” O’Connor explained. “It’s not a significant change, just an addition to the curriculum, more tools to support what we are doing.”

O’Connor mentioned the Decodables are culturally sensitive, and said the goal is for students to have good reading comprehension by the second grade. The Decodables will be rolled out in the fall and while they are geared toward students in kindergarten through second grade, they could also be used for older children who require intervention to help build reading skills.

“One big thing we say is there’s nothing better than a kid with a book in their hands,” O’Connor said. “We like that this has gone through a rigorous vetting.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120. Max Bowen can be reached at mbowen@atholdailynews.com or 413-930-4074.