Search form

Grants Allow Schools to Develop Small Communities
Share School Issues Center

The U.S. Department of Education's Smaller Learning Communities program provides funds for large high schools to break down into smaller units.


About 354 schools nationwide received $42.3 million in federal grant money this year. Educators will use the funds to create small learning communities within their buildings, helping students feel more connected to schools, classmates, and teachers.

The U.S. Department of Education funds the initiative, called the Smaller Learning Communities Program. Recipients can use the one-year allocation to establish mentoring and teacher-advisory programs, career units, and schools within schools. Only schools with more than 1,000 students are eligible.


ADMINISTRATORS ENCOURAGED TO APPLY

Among the grant recipients are eight high schools and school districts in Illinois. "We encouraged schools to apply," said Wendell Meeks, principal consultant with the secondary education division of the Illinois State Board of Education. "We looked at research that showed that these various attributes for small learning communities were good. Large high schools can become impersonal. When [schools] are organized around small learning communities, there is a chance for students and teachers to get to know one another better."

Five of the Illinois high schools or school districts received grants to develop plans for smaller learning communities, including Chicago, which received $250,000. The other three Illinois school districts received funds to implement plans by fall.


DEVELOPING TEAMS

Administrators at two Illinois schools said they plan to use the money for support programs for ninth graders to ease the transition from middle school to high school.

Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Illinois, will implement a transition program for ninth-grade students with the $308,079 grant it received this year. The school will launch ninth-grade teams in the fall, according to the school's principal, Anthony Monaco. Each team will have about 100 students who will be in classes together for the four major subjects, Monaco told Education World. The school expects a freshman class in the fall of about 635 students. Most of those students have been in teams in middle school, he added.

"It's an attempt to create opportunities for greater connections," Monaco said. "Previously, it was done with some freshmen, and now it will be done with all of them." Those students who were in teams as freshmen remained more involved with the school and with other students as sophomores, he said. "Kids who are connected to one another and adults are less likely to cause trouble. The teachers also look out for the kids."

The school's grant is being used for staff development and curriculum planning. Some additional staff may be needed for the major subject areas but how many has not yet been determined, according to Monaco.


PLANNING FOR CHANGE

Administrators at Streamwood (Illinois) High School are also planning a ninth-grade program with teams for next year, principal Ronald Kalicki told Education World.

The $48,200 grant is being used to train teachers to stress reading skills in all subject areas, review curriculum, and send teachers to observe classes in other schools that are using teams, Kalicki said. "We want to identify in ninth grade what kids need to be successful." Staff members plan to apply for an implementation grant for next year.

A team structure will provide students with more individualized attention and more support, he said. The school is expecting between 500 and 600 ninth graders in the fall of 2001.

Although no crisis or specific problems prompted administrators to apply for grant money, developing a structured program for freshmen seems a good way to head off problems, Kalicki said. "We want to reduce the number of interventions from the dean's office. "We want to increase successes, and we know ninth grade is a critical transition year."