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Sept. 1, 2004

Calvin Earns State Grant

A $179,000 grant from the state of Michigan will bolster a creative collaboration between Calvin College and two area schools. The Department of Education's Teacher Quality Grant to Calvin will allow the college to provide training and support for teachers at Buchanan Elementary School and Potter's House Christian School within the Four Blocks literacy model.

The Four Blocks model, which the Grand Rapids Public Schools adopted in 2003, combines four components of teaching literacy: "Guided Reading," "Self-Selected Reading," "Writing" and "Working with Words."

Calvin education professor James Rooks is a Four Blocks specialist and will direct the new collaboration.

Rooks was a professor in the education department at Redeemer University College; prior to that he was the principal of Immanuel Christian School in Oshawa, Ontario. He says Four Blocks works.

"Approaches to teaching reading in North America have not been very successful in teaching struggling readers," he says. "This balanced approach to literacy instruction helps all of the students learn and allows the teachers to build on the particular strengths their students bring to reading and writing.

John Harberts, GRPS chief academic officer, says the collaboration will help Buchanan.

"This grant is a wonderful example of how a college and a school district can collaborate," he says. "Calvin took the time to find out the needs at Buchanan and then they developed a grant based upon those needs. Now they will use their resources to help build the capacity of Buchanan staff to meet their goals, and the grant will have a direct impact on student achievement."

John Booy, principal of Potter's House and a graduate of Calvin, says simply: "Our connection with Calvin has been very strong and we're looking forward to making it even stronger."

The new partnership will include professors from Calvin's Education, English and Communication Arts and Sciences Departments as well as Deb Smith, a nationally recognized Four Blocks consultant.

The different departments at Calvin will get involved in different ways.

For example, English professors Nancy Hull and Gary Schmidt will train teachers from Buchanan and Potter's House - both of which host racially diverse student populations - to hone their students' writing skills. The focal point of the teacher training will be preparing students to participate in Calvin's 28-year-old Youth Writing Festivals. Buchanan is a newcomer to the writing festival, while Potter’s House is a regular participant.

"The challenge of this going to be adapting teaching strategies for a diverse community and making those strategies work for the everyday classroom needs of these schools," Schmidt says.

Meanwhile Calvin communication arts and sciences professor Randall Buursma will lend his skills in creative drama to the fourth and fifth grade teachers from both schools. Such things as role playing, simulations and choral reading, he says, allows students to connect in an empathetic way with reading and writing.

Rooks, in addition to directing the literacy effort, will partner with Smith to provide training sessions for both schools' teachers. Smith will also provide advanced training for a few key personnel in the schools, who will work as coaches as the program becomes self-sustaining.

And Calvin students from various education and communication classes will provide classroom support. Susan Hasseler, a Calvin education professor, will provide guidance on working with a diverse student population at the schools and will also be in charge of assessing the programs' effectiveness.

The important task of integrating technology with the Four Blocks approach falls to Robert Bobeldyk, an assistant director of teaching and learning for Calvin Information Technology.

Rooks notes that there are particular software programs that support working with words, self-selected reading and guided reading and that Bobeldyk's expertise will be a plus for the project.

The new effort not only meets current needs, but continues the longtime partnerships the college has shared with both schools.

Already Calvin education students, including those from Rooks' class, serve as tutors for Buchanan's students. Buursma has performed shadow puppetry, choral reading and other creative dramas at both schools. And Calvin not only maintains a tutoring program with Potter's House, but professors from the college helped to shape the language arts program at the school.

Also, for the past three years, Calvin's education, nursing, science and Spanish departments have been working in Buchanan School through a Community Outreach Partnership Center grant from the Office of University Partnerships in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)