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CHE Grant Establishes Center of Excellence at Lander University

An award from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education has established Lander University’s College of Education Center of Excellence for the Advancement of Reading and Literacy Instruction.

The three-year grant, totaling $450,000, will be shared with Presbyterian College in Clinton. In the first collaborative model in the state to address the Science of Reading, Lander will receive just over $307,000 of the funding, said Dr. Sarah Hunt-Barron, dean of Lander’s College of Education.

The center’s focus will be on preparing pre-service teachers to implement reading and literacy instruction in preschool through third-grade classrooms. Students from Lander and Presbyterian will work in classrooms in primary and elementary schools in Greenwood, Laurens and Newberry counties, she said.

“We are proud that our college is the first CHE Center of Excellence at Lander,” Hunt-Barron said, “and we are looking forward to the collaboration with Presbyterian College.”

According to the CHE, research has shown that the single greatest factor influencing student achievement is teacher quality. For South Carolina to attain its education goals, all students must have access to highly qualified teachers and educational programs. The Centers of Excellence Program is focused on helping schools and districts provide high-quality education for young people.

The award will enable pre-service teachers at Lander University and Presbyterian College to learn from the best practices of reading and literacy as they tutor students and gain experience in foundational reading classes. Education majors from both institutions will be paired with classroom teachers in this initiative.

The grant allows for a pilot group of 25 pre-service teachers in early childhood, elementary and special education to begin their training this semester, with the number expanding to 75 in Fall 2024, Hunt-Barron said, noting the grant will continue through Spring 2026.

Pre-service teachers who participate in the grant program will receive a stipend for their work.

The need for the program stems from reports by the National Assessment of Education Progress, which showed a significant drop in reading scores after the pandemic, Hunt-Barron said.

“In spring 2020, schools throughout the United States moved to online instruction with the outbreak of COVID-19. Later, hybrid instruction was adopted in many schools so that students would learn online and in school. We found that there were different levels of access to technology in homes, and instruction varied among households,” she said.

“Learning to read is a complicated process. This program will strengthen our efforts to prepare pre-service teachers with the skills they need to teach the fundamentals of teaching reading and writing.”

The grant also will enable Lander and Presbyterian faculty to collaborate on research and collect data on the success of the program. Their findings will be reported to the CHE and also shared at education conferences.

“What we learn through this endeavor could become a model for other colleges and universities,” Hunt-Barron said.