news-category: Campus News

Gardner-Webb’s College of Education Receives $15,600 Grant

Funds from North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) will Help Establish Foothills Center for Literacy Research

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Gardner-Webb University’s College of Education has received a $15,600 grant from North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU). The award is part of a gift from the Goodnight Educational Foundation to support implementing new literacy strategies into the curriculum for teacher education students.

“I am grateful for the good work of our Education faculty for so ably seeking out this funding opportunity,” praised GWU President Dr. William Downs. “By focusing on improvements in literacy, Gardner-Webb is addressing a clear societal need; and, by working to better equip classroom teachers, our faculty are assisting society’s great unsung heroes. We’re all proud of the effort and expertise demonstrated by GWU’s College of Education in this latest grant award.”

Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Dr. Diana Betts applied for the grant with assistance from Birth to Kindergarten and Elementary Education Coordinator Dr. Lane Wesson, and College of Education adjuncts, Dr. Mindy Duckworth and Brittany Evans.

Dr. Diana Betts

Betts explained that the funds help Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) meet requirements in the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021. This measure passed by the N.C. General Assembly requires training for pre-K and elementary public school educators in the Science of Reading (SoR), which is a phrase used to describe five decades worth of reading research. The legislation also establishes literacy programs for pre-K students, training for pre-K through fifth-grade teachers in LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), and an external review of literacy coursework.

​​Gardner-Webb’s grant proposal was based on a recent self-study, which found that the greatest area of need in its EPP is additional instruction in comprehension and intervention. “Therefore, we propose to design, develop, and implement literacy labs at elementary schools within our immediate district,” Betts informed. “These would be high-need schools within the local system where GWU candidates will be most impactful implementing equitable practices for diverse learners. Both schools (and the GWU campus) will need curricular materials, such as Lit Kits and decodable readers, so that candidates can provide interventions and practice strategies for teaching comprehension to struggling readers.”

To enhance Gardner-Webb’s curriculum, the grant includes RRtCP (Reading Research to Classroom Practice) training for faculty. “RRtCP is an IDA (International Dyslexia Association) accredited program offered across the state for educators and future educators,” Betts shared. “Having this content embedded into our literacy courses will not only ensure candidates are receiving Science of Reading specific content, but also preparing them for LETRS training in their future districts after graduation. The RRtCP program places specific emphasis on classroom practice and teaching comprehension to students.”

Betts shared that the ultimate goal from this project is to establish the Foothills Center for Literacy Research (FCLR). Establishing the Center will provide support to Gardner-Webb’s large number of online students who are current teacher assistants in school systems across the state. “The Center will further our efforts to strengthen district partnerships and begin to continuously evaluate our efforts in reading instruction,” Betts expounded. “While this will initially not incur a cost, it is a way to document efforts to meet the needs of our distance learners in the areas of interventions and comprehension strategies. We envision this idea utilizing existing technology to provide simulations and virtual practice for students. We are confident that by providing these structured clinical experiences to our learners, our effectiveness ratings in all areas will increase.”

The College of Education has established the Literacy Advisory Board (LAB) to help review GWU’s curriculum and implement the grant proposal. Serving on the board with Betts are Wesson, Evans, Dr. Kaitlyn Holshouser, Dr. Mary Newton (adjunct), and Dr. Alecia Roberts (adjunct).

Representatives from Gardner-Webb will have meetings with district leaders in the spring to determine how to develop literacy labs for teacher candidates. “We want to be a catalyst for researching Science of Reading implementation,” Betts affirmed. “We have a unique perspective because our candidates are all over the state. The hope is that we can begin this process by planning a Reading Science Conference.”

Betts, who also serves as coordinator of GWU’s master’s program in curriculum and instruction, has already started connecting with educators across the state and nation by serving on the Literacy Task Force for NCICU. She is also part of a sub-committee that developed and disseminated a Self-Study to all NCICU institutions. Additionally, she is currently working on a resource toolkit that will serve literacy professors and practicing teachers across the state. Betts also serves as NCICU’s representative to assist with inspections of the literacy courses in educator prep programs across the state. She has reviewed two UNC system schools and assisted with a review in Massachusetts. With the grant from NCICU, Betts recently attended a Reading Science Summit in Syracuse, N.Y., which provided an opportunity to network with Louisa Moats (author of LETRS) and university faculty from 28 states and Australia.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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