That’s thanks in part to Waterford Learning Program, an interactive computer-based learning system, which she credits with engaging students in a way she has never seen before. She said her students can hardly wait for their daily time with the program, which is outfitted to two computers set behind tiny desks in her classroom, and uses songs, color shapes and letters to teach children to read.
But her students and the students in the other six kindergarten classes at Saks Elementary, where she teaches, are about to get another option. Thursday they were awarded $40,000 from the Anniston Community Education Foundation that will enable the school to outfit 20 computes in one of the school’s labs with an expanded version of the same program. Now, Smith says, she will be able to provide each of her students the opportunity to use the program at the same time, if need be.
“There are six of us (teachers) in kindergarten, and we all think this is an amazing program,” Smith said. “I see the children being more successful.”
At $40,000, Saks received the foundation’s top grant award for 2010, but the school wasn’t the only recipient. The foundation on Thursday awarded grants to seven other programs at area schools.
The grants range in amount from $10,000 to $35,000, but all go toward helping students enhance their reading skills. The grant money totaled $182,000, bringing the foundation’s total donation to more than $1 million since it began awarding money to school programs eight years ago.
“We’re hoping in promoting this funding to improve reading skills as well as promote literacy awareness in Calhoun County,” said Marquitta Williams, the foundation’s executive director.
The foundation was established to serve the communities affected by polychlorinated biphenyls and is funded by Solutia. For that reason, Williams said, the foundation has focused on Anniston, Oxford and Wellborn. This year, she added, was the first year the foundation has served the Saks community, but that’s not the primary reason why the board dedicated money to Saks Elementary.
The foundation’s board was won over by a presentation delivered during the application process by Francia Haygood, Saks’ guidance counselor. Haygood’s colleagues also credited her presentation for helping secure the grant.
She said her presentation was motivated by the children she serves and the opportunities the new program will present. She, Smith and other educators at the school said the program will help close “the achievement gap.”
That gap is what educators call the difference in preparedness for students entering school for the first time. The program teaches the children at an individualized level that advances with their skill sets.
“I’m excited for the children,” Haygood said. “Whatever it takes, within reason, to make our children successful, we’re going to do that.”