Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford receives phonics grant

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Feb. 14, 2014
Robert J. O'Brien first-graders with 'Friday Funpacks' and new phonics materials. Front row (l-r): Oscar Deras-Marinez, Michael Figueroa and Jada Quinones. Back row (l-r): Fredy Hernandez, Kevin Gonzalez, Yariona Smith, Aaron Custodio and Patrick Gilbert. Photo contributed by Kim Guzzo. - Contributed Photo

Lugging home a backpack full of homework for the weekend probably isn’t the most exciting event for students, but there are some backpacks at the Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy that kids are excited about. They are called “Friday Funpacks,” and they are a set of brightly-colored backpacks filled with literacy games, books and a family popcorn snack. 

These “Funpacks” are sent home with selected students each Friday on a rotating basis. “They just get really excited if they get chosen that week to bring home the backpack,” said Kim Guzzo, a literacy tutor at O’Brien STEM Academy. Guzzo said the “Funpack” program just started within the last couple of months at the school and is a program that she would like to expand. “Right now we can’t give every kid one because we don’t have that many.”

The school recently received a grant that will, in part, help fund the “Friday Funpacks.” A dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 25, to celebrate the $1,875 phonics grant that the East Hartford School-Business Partnership has awarded to O’Brien STEM Academy’s Reading Room. A quarter of the funds from the grant are designated for the “Friday Funpacks.”

Guzzo wrote the grant in the fall and was notified at the end of November that the school has been awarded the funds. The Phonics Fun’damentals grant will be used to purchase instructional phonics materials for kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade students who participate in the literacy program in the Reading Room. There are a total of 48 students in kindergarten through third grade at O’Brien who currently participate in this program.

Guzzo and fellow reading room teaching staff members Caitlin Peletier and Michelle Ayotte will incorporate the materials purchased from the grant funds into their phonological awareness and phonics early intervention instruction. 

Guzzo said about 50 different games and items have been purchased with the grant funds. “A lot of hands-on, fun activity things for the children,” said Guzzo.

The overall goal of the phonics program is to help children become fluent readers. “In tiny steps, getting them to learn their letters, learn their sight words, moving onto reading books and becoming fluent readers and enjoying it and having fun. If they don’t like to do it, then they’re not going to want to do it,” said Guzzo.

“With these resources I think we can really ignite that passion for learning in the kids and keep them on task and take them as far as they can go,” added Guzzo.

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