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Vanderbilt, Metro Nashville Public Schools, community agencies partner to win $3.4 million in federal pre-k funds

Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development, in partnership with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and other community agencies, has won a three-year, $3.4 million federal grant to enhance language and literacy skills in pre-kindergarten classrooms.

"Our goal is to use this project to build models of professional development and pre-k instruction that can be disseminated throughout MNPS and other Tennessee districts," Deborah Rowe, associate professor of early childhood education and a project co-leader, said.

"The project will help teachers build young children’s language and literacy skills at an age when research increasingly indicates there are long-term benefits for children’s reading skills," David Dickinson, professor of education and a project co-leader, said.

The project is one of just 31 funded nationally by the U.S. Department of Education through its Early Reading First grant program. A second Tennessee project, centered in Chattanooga / Hamilton County, was also funded.

"The Early Reading First grant gives us the opportunity for program and instruction continuity for our youngest students in our seven Reading First schools," Denise Gregory, MNPS director of pre-k programs, said. "This will better prepare our pre-k children to be successful in their kindergarten experience. The principals and teachers are enthusiastic about the training and implementation of the Early Reading First curriculum through the partnership with Peabody College."

The Nashville project, Enhanced Language and Literacy Success, will provide professional development, literacy coaches, classroom materials and other programmatic supports for pre-k teachers and their students. Classroom implementation will begin in January 2009.

Over three years, the project will serve approximately 700 children enrolled in 13 pre-k classrooms in seven Metropolitan Nashville elementary schools:

Alex Green Elementary, Cumberland Elementary, Glenn Enhanced Option, Glenview Elementary, Kirkpatrick Elementary, Stratton Elementary and Warner Elementary. The Vanderbilt-based project team will collaborate with Gregory, the pre-k teachers and principals in these schools, and Tywanna Peoples, pre-k coordinator, to implement the program.

"Some of the participating elementary schools serve significant numbers of families who speak languages other than English, and our project has specific features designed to support English-language learners," Rowe said. "The program includes the Opening the World of Learning curriculum, increasing the emphasis on pre-school writing, offering library programs to help foster home literacy and implementing a summer program operated by the YMCA to reduce summer learning loss and smooth the transition to kindergarten."

Project collaborators include the Peabody Department of Teaching and Learning, the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies’ Center for Evaluation Research and Methodology, MNPS, the YMCA of Middle Tennessee and the Nashville Public Library.

"We are especially grateful to Kecia Ray, Denise Gregory and Tywanna Peoples who have assisted us in launching this project, and to Florence Kidd, Paul Changas, LaWanna Shelton, and the MNPS Reading First elementary school principals who met with us and encouraged us to pursue this funding," Rowe said. "Their input and willingness to commit to the project were essential to our successful application and will continue to be key to the overall success of the program."

For more information about Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, ranked as the No. 2 education school in the nation in 2008 by U.S. News & World Report, visit

Media Contact: Melanie Moran, (615) 322-NEWS