Northern Arizona University has been awarded a three-year research grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences to develop a Spanish-English program to enhance reading comprehension among culturally and linguistically diverse children.

The grant, totaling nearly $1.5 million, will support young Spanish-speaking English learners by promoting early oral language skills.

“Reading comprehension is fundamental for learning because children have to be able to understand what they read in school,” said Trina Spencer, principal investigator on the project and research director for NAU’s Institute for Human Development.

Young Spanish-speaking English learners are at risk for academic and reading comprehension difficulty. Teaching early and intensive language skills can help prepare English learners for academic success and foster bilingualism, which can lead to increased social, vocational and economic opportunities.

“Our project aims to have a dual focus on English and Spanish,” Spencer said. “We want to concentrate on both languages so they can support each other in the development of oral language skills which ultimately supports overall reading comprehension.”

The basis of the new curriculum will be stories that are culturally and personally relevant to children of different backgrounds making it easier for them to understand what is being taught.

Several NAU undergraduate and graduate students will serve as research assistants, and the project will be completed in collaboration with Northern Arizona Council of Governments Head Start.

This is the first grant NAU has received from the Institute of Educational Sciences.