Ypsilanti Community Schools Maximizes Grant to Build Literacy Skills

As an Innovative Approaches to Literacy federal grant recipient, Ypsilanti Community Schools has big plans to boost the literacy skills for all students. Learn how they will achieve this.

With a multifaceted goal of building literacy skills in students of all grades, Ypsilanti Community Schools is proud to be one of just 44 school districts across the country to receive the Innovative Approaches to Literacy, a federal grant administered through the U.S. Department of Education. Within YCS, it’s referred to as Literacy Excellence Accelerates Performance (LEAP).

Ypsilanti Community Schools will use the five-year, $3.7 million grant to improve literacy outcomes for all students from PK-12. “This is very consistent with our Board of Education vision and with the goals of Ypsilanti Community Schools Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross,” says Dr. Carlos Lopez, Assistant Superintendent with Ypsilanti Community Schools.

“Literacy opens doors for students and provides them with wonderful opportunities,” Dr. Zachery-Ross says. “In addition to the sheer joy of reading that can take students places they’d never imagine, literacy encourages students to think critically and interact in various ways.”

Three broad literacy skills goals

With a strong foundation of resources the grant will provide, Ypsilanti Community Schools will focus on three “buckets” all related to building literacy skills, Lopez says.

“The first is the idea of improving literacy outcomes, especially at the preschool to third-grade levels,” he says. “We want to get this age group off to a good start with regard to literacy and know that this is important to helping them stay on that trajectory.”

Given the intensity of intervention required to catch up when a student falls behind, the goal is to start students on a strong literacy track from an early age. “The road is much harder for students if they fall behind, so we are working to intervene at earlier levels,” Lopez explains.

Included in this bucket is significant professional development for teachers and library media specialists to better equip them to provide resources directly to students.

An essential part of literacy is reading and building a love of books, so a second focus of the grant is to provide “more resources in the form of books,” Lopez says. Over the past couple of years, Ypsilanti Community Schools has worked hard to improve the selection and volume of books in the path of its students.

“We have focused on diverse authors, women, and people of color and books of all kinds of topics, and this continued focus is a big part of the grant,” he says.

Principal of Estabrook Elementary School, Ryan Johnson, offers a fist bump to his students who were just inducted into the Grizzly Scholars Program. Photo credit: Ypsilanti Community Schools

With so many quality offerings from diverse authors about diverse topics, students will always have a wide variety of perspectives in the books they access. “When you pick up a book and can see yourself in its pages, you don’t have to interpret that those possibilities are available to you and your life. You can envision that you can travel or be a poet or writer or engineer or doctor or lawyer or teacher.”

Diversity isn’t limited to race but includes a broad spectrum of socioeconomic situations, abilities, sexual orientations, and genders, Lopez adds. “It’s important for students to have different role models and ideas of what people can be. At Ypsilanti Community Schools, we believe in equity, and if you not only have those experiences in daily life but can see it in front of you in a book, you understand how inclusive and diverse the world is.”

The grant will also be used to get books directly into the hands of students. “These would be books the students can keep. There’s nothing like picking out a book and having it for your very own. From PK all the way up to 12th grade, we want to make sure students receive books a couple of times each year,” says Lopez.

Not just reading, but experiencing literacy

The district was awarded the LEAP grant in late September 2021, so they’re busy putting the foundations of the grant in place. Two specialists within the district will implement the grant and work with media specialists to order books for the libraries.

“We’ll be targeting March Reading Month, and that will be our first book giveaway this year,” Lopez says.

The district will also create literacy-building events for the Grizzly Learning Camp held during the summer for students to experience an extension of school-year learning. “This will be fun, hands-on, project-based learning that involves the community,” Lopez says.

A drama series and field trips will help students build the writing, speaking, and listening skills that are intrinsic to literacy. “We’ve planned a trip to the botanical gardens at the University of Michigan to really combine literacy elements with STEM learning and community experiences,” he explains.

Close ties to the Ypsilanti District Library will help make sure all children have library cards of their own. “Library cards are still not out of fashion, and it’s great to help students have the opportunities to check out books,” Lopez says. “We’re so pleased to have such a strong relationship with the library.”

Literacy skills for academic and life success

Literacy is critical for academic success and building the interrelated skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening will support students in reading-related pursuits and well beyond.

“It’s really hard to learn math or science or social studies if you can’t read or access texts. We know that strong literacy skills will give students a leg up with employment opportunities and help them engage in their jobs when they are older. Our goal is to help them become competent people who love the joy of reading and know that that will take them where they want to go in their lives. It’s all about opening doors,” Lopez says.

The LEAP grant positions Ypsilanti Community Schools to better support the literacy skills of all students.

“We are so thankful for the support from the U.S. Department of Education because the grant really aligns with our Board’s and Superintendent’s vision, but it’s also a great opportunity to extend learning and provide lots of books that are inclusive to students,” Lopez adds. “I’m grateful that people see the hope and possibilities for our students and see them as the capable and competent students that we know them to be.”

Learn more about Ypsilanti Community Schools at ycschools.us.

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