Four Anne Arundel County high schools are getting nearly $5 million from the federal government to test literacy programs and continue efforts to create smaller, more nurturing academies within larger schools.
The goal is to discover how to respond to reading deficiencies among older students while helping students make the transition to high school.
"There's obviously a lot of kids that get to high school for whatever reason that have a lot of difficulty in reading," said Thomas E. Miller, director of career and technology education for the county school system.
With the infusion of $4.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education, Arundel, Glen Burnie, Meade and Old Mill high schools will offer next fall a supplemental reading program to ninth-graders whose skills are several years behind their peers'.
The "enhanced reading opportunities" study calls for each school to identify about 50 students for the intense remediation, along with a control group, and follow their progress.
Each school will receive more than $1 million over five years for the project, but only about $250,000 is dedicated to testing during the first two years, according to Sharon Stratton, principal of Arundel High.
The rest of the money will pay for staff development and other needs of the smaller learning communities.
Anne Arundel first began its smaller learning community initiative at five schools - the four in the study and North County - three years ago with a $2.1 million federal grant.
All ninth-graders at each school are divided into smaller teams, which proponents say helps foster better affiliation with the school as well as better attendance, achievement and participation in extracurricular activities.
The freshmen, with assistance from their guidance counselors, later select their sophomore classes from one of five programs: business management and finance; arts and communication; engineering, mechanical and information technologies; health, environmental and life sciences; and human services.
These career clusters all have similar core courses but differ in the electives that are available. Students are not locked into their program - they can transfer if desired.
"The idea is to have more personalized contact, so students do better academically," Miller said. People achieve when they can make connections between their interests and course content, he said.
More than 30 schools from around the country have been selected through an application process to participate in the grant program.
North County High School was not included in Anne Arundel County's application because it was a pilot school for a countywide reading initiative, but Miller said the smaller learning communities will continue there as well.
The grant will be used in each of the four schools to pay a teacher to conduct the research, as well as a program manager to oversee the work throughout the county.
After two years of administering the program, the schools will collect follow-up data on students who participate.
An evaluation team making the assessment will issue a report in 2009.