Verizon Foundation Funds USF Literacy Program for Hillsborough County First Graders

TAMPA, Fla. - First grade students in two Hillsborough County elementary schools will get special help learning to read as a result of a $400,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications.

The grant will be used to establish a reading program pioneered by two University of South Florida (USF) education professors. The Accelerated Literacy Learning program, or ALL, trains teachers to help at-risk first graders read at a first-grade level.

As a result of the Verizon grant, teachers at DeSoto and Edison elementary in Tampa will be the first trained in Hillsborough, the nation's 12th largest school district. These two sites were chosen as the inaugural locations for the ALL program because students graduating from these schools will go into Franklin Middle School, which is also involved in a separate literacy initiative supported by Verizon. It is hoped that the concentration of literacy efforts in these schools will provide valuable information on the effectiveness of a long-term approach to improving literacy.

"We are very excited that Hillsborough County's young, at-risk readers can start benefiting from the ALL program," said Jane Applegate, dean of USF College of Education. "When we have more tools to improve literacy at an early age, the better everyone will be long term. Verizon has provided us with a major tool for the local community with this grant that will have an important impact on literacy for years to come."

"The promise of the 'New Economy' starts with literacy," said John Blanchard, president of Verizon's Southeast region. "While progress is being made to narrow the digital divide, we must be certain that no student is left behind because of poor reading skills. USF's ALL program helps accomplish that by delivering immediate and life-long benefits to students."

Professors Susan Homan and James King got involved with ALL in Pinellas and Pasco counties 10 years ago, and now the program has been adopted in 11 Florida counties. Broward County, the nation's fifth largest school district, has the largest program. Some 116 of the county's 127 elementary schools have an ALL-trained teacher.

Based on the research of psychologist Marie Clay, ALL focuses on the most at-risk children - those who rank in the bottom 20 percent of their class. It combines reading practice using a graded book series, along with training in sound to letter correspondences in creative writing and spelling.

By the end of the program, first graders are reading at the class average. "Approximately 80 percent of the students who enter the program achieve average reading skills within 40 to 60 lessons," King said.
Their follow-up studies show that 85 percent of at-risk first graders continue to read at their class level after they have been in the program, and 90 percent maintain good grade-level performance throughout elementary school.

"This long-lasting gain is what has distinguished ALL from more traditional, remedial approaches to reading, which typically report that students do not maintain gains beyond one additional year," Homan said.

Children in ALL learn how to monitor their reading, search for information, correct themselves and crosscheck their reading using photographs, King explained. If a story, for example, refers to a "collie," the child can use a photo to see that means a dog. "That's a very hard thing for first graders to figure out. Language has meaning and structure, or syntax, and visual information. We train first graders to use all three."

Program teachers participate in two semesters of graduate courses in early intervention theory and strategies taught by USF-certified trainers.

Verizon Communications, the national communications company formed through the merger of GTE and Bell Atlantic, has made a national commitment to fund more than $5.5 million in literacy initiatives this year through its Check Into Literacy grants program. To that end, the company has launched an award-winning program, Verizon Reads - a comprehensive national initiative involving corporate philanthropy, community outreach, employee participation and collaboration with major literacy organizations.

Verizon Reads supports a wide variety of literacy programs and works with a network of collaborative literacy partners to reach adults and children across America including the National Institute for Literacy, Literacy Volunteers of America, National Coalition for Literacy, National Alliance of Urban Literacy Coalitions, National Center for Family Literacy, Reading is Fundamental, American Library Association, Communities In Schools and Everybody Wins!

The Verizon Foundation supports programs that create innovative e-solutions, foster basic and computer literacy, enrich communities and build a skilled workforce. The foundation promotes partnerships in technology with organizations serving the needs of diverse communities, people with disabilities and the economically and socially disadvantaged. For more information on the Verizon Foundation, visit www.verizon.com/foundation on the Internet.

Established in 1956, USF has the largest metropolitan college of education in the Southeast. It is ranked 10th in the nation in the number of graduates.

Verizon Communications

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ), formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with more than 100 million access line equivalents and 25.6 million wireless customers. A Fortune 10 company with more than 260,000 employees and approximately $60 billion in 1999 revenues, Verizon's global presence extends to 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com .