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New Collaboration to Target Early-Literacy Skills in Rural Schools

 A new program is targeting 21 rural schools across the country to boost literacy instruction and improve early-literacy skills, especially among rural children from low-income households. 

The project, Literacy Innovation in Rural Education through Collaboration (LIREC), was highlighted in the most recent edition of Rural Policy Matters and is a partnership between the Rural Trust, the National Council of Teachers of English, the nonprofit First Book, and the Institute for Educational Leadership. The program aims to build capacity among rural schools and educators, instead of "delivering pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all programs." Participating schools will have access to workshops and coaching on literacy instruction, receive supplies and books for students, and offer summer programs where literacy coaches and teachers provide intensive literacy instruction. The project will also work with rural libraries to increase parent engagement and provide reading materials to preschool teachers.

Jereann King Johnson, a project coordinator with the Rural Trust, told Rural Policy Matters that in rural, isolated areas, it's especially important to involve community members in attempts to improve education. "Barriers to our children's literacy development are not just school and classroom based," Johnson said. "When the entire community, and not just teachers and parents, is viewed as a critical asset for addressing early-literacy development, the opportunities for literacy teaching and learning are greatly increased."

In absence of preschool options or resources, some rural communities have attempted to use technology to boost early-literacy skills. In Utah, the Waterford Institute recently launched an initiative that provides instructional software to rural children. Some educators have relied on virtual field trips  and online activities to introduce new vocabulary and help students make connections to texts. 

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