OSCEOLA/MECOSTA COUNTIES — Schools throughout the state of Michigan have been focusing on early literacy. To help ensure students are reading at grade level, local school districts have applied for and received a variety of grants.

According to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), Gov. Rick Snyder created the Third-Grade Reading Workgroup in early 2015 to analyze Michigan students’ reading proficiency at the third-grade level. Analysts noticed reading proficiency in the state has been steadily declining. After reviewing reading proficiency in Michigan and other states, the workgroup noted national test results indicated more than two-thirds of Michigan students fail to demonstrate third-grade proficiency on standardized reading tests.

Michigan as a state is focusing on increasing the early literacy skills of our students, states the MDE website. The Early Literacy Initiative is a major activity the MDE will work on over the next few years. Research shows if students are not proficient in reading by third grade, their chances of becoming proficient are minimal.

To prepare students for proficiency at the third-grade level, Big Rapids Public Schools, Chippewa Hills School District, Crossroads Charter Academy, Evart Public Schools, Morley Stanwood Community Schools, Reed City Area Public Schools and the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District have all received various grant funds.

Some local school districts applied for and received an Additional Instructional Time Grant.

In Big Rapids Public School elementaries, grant funds are being put to use providing extra personnel and extracurricular support for students.

“We are really focusing on getting out kids up to grade level,” said Superintendent Tim Haist. “We are really working hard to make sure our students are successful.”

At each of the elementary schools in Chippewa Hills School District, the grant funds will be used toward equipment, programming and a facilitator of extracurricular support. Superintendent Bob Grover said the school has previously hosted a summer school program at the school and ran the program fully online, but is seeking different options for this year.

“We are trying to find a happy medium for this summer,” he said. “We are looking for someone to facilitate the program and have periodic meetings during the summer.”

Grover noted online works better during the summers than face-to-face as transportation to and from the schools can be difficult.

Evart Public Schools also is looking toward online solutions to bring students up to grade level.

“We purchased an intervention program called ‘Compass,’” said Superintendent Shirley Howard.

The program will look at students’ English Language Arts standardized test scores and pinpoint where students need additional instruction, Howard said. Howard noted when students log on to the website, the program would show them exactly what they need to accomplish.

In addition to the instructional time grant, another two grants were recently received by local school districts.

The MOISD has matched Literacy Coaches Grant funds to bring two literacy coaches to the schools.

“The coaches will promote and help provide instruction for the essential elements of early literacy,” said Tonya Harrison, MOISD general education director. “Those elements are research-based instructional practices. Our primary focus is to support teachers in their buildings as they promote literacy.

“Reading and literacy is the foundation of education for our students as life-long citizens. With helping our students with early literacy, we are helping them be successful in other content areas in their lives.”

These grants are helping students with literacy in the classroom, and at Crossroads Charter Academy, students can bring their classroom home to incorporate their parents.

CCA teacher Vicky Bowman was recently awarded a General Mills grant to create and implement an online program that can be accessed on the CCA website homepage. Parents of any local elementary school-aged student, including those who attend parochial schools or daycares, can participate in the program, Bowman said. The program will run through April and is open to any families hoping to join until Bowman reaches a maximum of 150 students.

As part of the program, parents watch an online presentation each month, then visit the school to pick up their child’s literacy bag, which is filled with a book, handouts and literacy game. Parents without internet access can speak with Bowman to set up a time to view the presentation at school.

“It is important to collaborate with parents to help their child be successful in school by gaining the literacy skills the students need,” she said. “Parents are students’ first teachers and creating these outreach programs are important to build family-school relationships.”