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Grant To Aid in Teacher Training for Middle Grades

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The DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund has awarded a three-year, $1.1-million grant to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center for Early Adolescence to help improve the preparation and training of teachers and staff members in the middle grades.

The center will use the grant, announced this month, to develop educational resources for teachers, disseminate information on curriculum developments, and establish a national advisory board of early-adolescence experts and education leaders.

It also plans to provide technical assistance to five universities or colleges to strengthen their middle grades teacher-education programs.

"When you look at the increasing data connecting school failure to ... substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, [and] teenage pregnancy,'' said Peter Scales, the center's director for national initiatives, "we find that ... these problems come to the forefront in ages 10 to 15,'' the period typically defined as early adolescence.

A study released by the center last fall found that fewer than one in five middle-grades teachers had received any special training on early adolescence; the vast majority, 84 percent, were prepared in elementary or secondary education. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)

The center, a branch of the university's medical school, was founded in 1978 as a research, training, and advocacy institution that provides guidance to teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, and others who work with young adolescents.

'Critical Needs' Unmet

Mr. Scales said he hopes the center's new initiatives will help these professionals address "critical needs'' of early adolescents that have not been met by schools in the past.

Among these areas, Mr. Scales cited the need to make middle-grades curricula more interdisciplinary and "exploratory'' by integrating such subjects as science, social studies, and the arts into a broader academic framework, rather than presenting them in isolated 50-minute classes.

He also said students in the middle grades need more breaks in their school day. "They are full of energy,'' he noted. "Intense involvement in activities for brief periods of time is developmentally appropriate.''

The grant to the center is part of a growing effort by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and other foundations to focus more of their resources on the early-adolescent population.

Also this month, the DeWitt Wallace Fund awarded a $1.05-million dollar grant to a center at Brandeis University that plans to create a career and higher-education information network for disadvantaged middle-grades students in 10 states.

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