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Bemidji School District: Stimulus dollars go to reading, preschool programs

Bemidji School District Curriculum Director Kathy Palm's vision of starting new programs aimed at reading and preschool can now become a reality.

On Monday, July 20, the Bemidji School Board approved $687,191 in stimulus money to go to Title 1 schools in the Bemidji School District.

Palm worked with Superintendent Jim Hess to create a list of programs that would meet the early educational needs of the Title 1 schools. One of the programs on the top of the list was the Reading Recovery program.

Reading Recovery is a short-term intervention program which works with first-grade students who have extreme difficulty learning to read and write.

Individual students receive a half-hour lesson each day for 12-20 weeks with a specially trained Reading Recovery teacher. As soon as students can meet grade-level expectations and can work independently in the classroom, their lessons are discontinued.

According to Palm, the Reading Recovery program has been successful in several school districts such as Brainerd and Thief River Falls, but the program is also expensive.

Palm designated $246,487 to fund the Reading Recovery program for one year. Much of the money goes towards materials and teacher training.

The program, which does not focus on special education, only allows specially trained Reading Recovery teachers to run the program. Training one teacher for the program can take up to a year or more.

While visiting Thief River Falls, Palm met with Judy Lindquist, a trained Reading Recovery teacher leader. Lindquist, also a teacher at Challenger Elementary School, had trained for a year at the University of So uth Dakota-Vermillion, where the reading program originated.

Lindquist accepted an offer to train teachers in the Bemidji Area for one week in August and every Friday afternoon during the school year.

"One teacher from each of the six elementary schools in the Bemidji Area will spend each Friday afternoon for one year training in this program," said Palm. "This is to help sustain the program once the stimulus money runs out."

The School Board voted to hire a .60 FTE elementary education teacher at each of the six elementary schools for a one-year contract to fill in when the teachers are in training.

The School Board also approved $92,400 of the stimulus money to be used for the Leveled Literacy Intervention program, which is similar to the Reading Recovery program, but is for small groups of grade K-2 students.

Eight teachers from the six elementary schools and one teacher from a non-public sc ention program.

The second largest chunk of the stimulus money, $144,142, was approved by the School Board for two preschool programs for at-risk 4-year-olds at Solway and Central elementary schools.

"It had been a dream of ours to offer these kind of preschool programs, and we eventually hope to see the preschool program expand to every elementary school," said Palm.

Current preschool programs are offered only through Community Education. The approved at-risk preschool program would be a four-day program, with a fifth day set aside for parents.

The School Board approved the hiring of 1.0 FTE early childhood teacher at Central Elementary School and .50 FTE early childhood teacher at Solway Elementary School for one-year contracts as preschool teachers.

In the past the Bemidji School District has not been able to continuously fund at-risk preschool programs. This has some school officials worried about what will happen once the money runs out.

"We will be looking at some partners, possibly some foundations to help us support preschool programming," said Hess. "Hopefully within a reasonable period of time, the economy will turn and schools will realize this is one of the wisest investments they can make in young children at-risk."

Palm noted the stimulus money could not have come at better time.

"We would never have gotten these programs if we didn't have this money," said Palm. "Everything just fell into place."