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CHAPEL HILL — An ongoing literacy initiative at University of North Carolina education schools, spearheaded by the University of North Carolina System, will be backed by generous grants from two private foundations in the state.

Increased reading achievement in the early grades is a top priority for North Carolina, especially given the state’s goal to award two million North Carolinians a postsecondary degree or high-quality credential by 2030. With the passage of the Excellent Public Schools Act this spring, state law requires that teacher preparation programs and professional development align with the Science of Reading.

The UNC System stated that it is prepared to help lead the way on this statewide effort. In March, eight faculty members from UNC System campuses finalized a common framework for literacy education based on the Science of Reading. All educator preparation programs across the UNC System are integrating the framework into their courses and student teaching experiences.

Now, with the assistance of $1 million gifts from both the Goodnight Educational Foundation and the C.D. Spangler Foundation, the UNC System plans to partner with five educator preparation programs to redesign curriculum, courses and field experiences to ensure teacher candidates are well versed in the Science of Reading. These “Literacy Innovation Leaders,” including Appalachian State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Fayetteville State University, UNC Charlotte, and UNC Pembroke, will serve as exemplars for the state.

“The rich heritage of App State has always been focused on student learning, and we are proud to be part of this important project, which will create profound and lasting positive effects for our state’s future,” App State Chancellor Sheri Everts wrote on Twitter.

The initiative is part of a statewide effort among lawmakers, the Department of Public Instruction, State Board of Education, K-12 school districts, universities and community colleges to ensure that new teachers — as well as those already in the classroom — are equipped with the tools needed to develop reading skills in students.

“Students who cannot read on grade level by the end of third grade are far less likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college and realize economic success later in life,” said UNC System President Peter Hans in a statement.

As part of the project, faculty and teaching candidates from UNC System education programs will participate in a professional development course focused on the Science of Reading, in partnership with the school districts surrounding their campuses. UNC System Lab School teachers in grades K-3, and select faculty from each educator preparation program, will also participate in the training.

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