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February 2014 | Grant Newsletters

Astor Fund Boosts Early Learning

Actors training teachers to bring reading to life; a new way to help kids catch up on reading the summer before kindergarten; techniques for weaving essential academic vocabulary words into daily classroom routines. 

These are samples of how The Trust will be investing $35 million in reading programs across the City. For all this, we can thank Brooke Astor. Known as the City’s “First Lady of Philanthropy,” Astor believed literacy was a key to a productive life. We agree. 

“If you can’t read well by third grade, you’re far less likely to graduate from high school on time,” says Shawn Morehead, program officer for education at The Trust. “Unfortunately, that describes most children in the City. We hope to change this by helping young readers in poor communities.” 

This Creative Arts Team-trained actor bring stories to life in ways that help develop reading and comprehension skills in young minds.

Reading a story to children is good, but it’s even better to get them to act it out, tell it back to you, or make up their own. A $460,000 grant to CUNY-Creative Arts Team trains actors to work with young students, teachers, and parents to make words come alive. “Interactive storytelling improves a child’s comprehension and memory while nurturing a love of words and stories,” says the Team’s Elyse Buxbaum. 

Teachers overwhelmingly say the program helps kids meet new Common Core Learning Standards for English. The grant also will fund evaluation of the work, which will help as educators try to expand the program to higher grades. 

Vocabulary is a key to success in all subjects, not just reading. For instance, if a student is asked to find the difference between 35 and 58, he has to understand that “difference,” in this case, means subtraction. $510,000 is helping New York University bring World of Words, a program that builds academic vocabulary, into classrooms with poor children and those who don’t speak English at home. 

By reading nonfiction, “they learn new words in meaningful contexts,” says Susan Neuman, creator of the teaching approach. 

Teaching Matters has long focused on improving teaching in grades 4-12. It will use $120,000 to extend its approach to reading teachers of disadvantaged students in kindergarten through third grade. 

“It’s important to work with students before the learning gap gets too significant,” says Naomi Cooperman, director of program design at Teaching Matters. She adds that The Trust’s grant is an “enormous opportunity to work on leveling the playing field.”

In "Astor's Last Gifts," The Wall Street Journal features Brooke Astor's legacy to education in the City.

Additional Astor Grants

Hunter College, $300,000 to train second-grade teachers in East Harlem to help English language learners and other struggling students learn to read. 

Jumpstart for Young Children, $80,000 to test a new summer reading program for children entering kindergarten in the South Bronx. If successful, the project will demonstrate a new way to bridge the gap between pre- kindergarten and kindergarten reading instruction. 

Reading Excellence and Discovery Foundation, $586,000 to coordinate individual tutoring, teacher coaching, and parent training in three Bronx elementary schools.

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