Antonio Scott, a paraprofessional at East Aiken Elementary School of the Arts, urged Aiken County Board of Education members this week to do their best to continue with the school district's literacy initiatives, even as they wrestle with the expected loss of millions in budget cuts later this year. Using mostly federal stimulus funds the past two years, district administrators designated 29 positions as reading interventionists in all elementary schools and four middle schools. It's part of a comprehensive strategy that also includes reading intervention teams within the schools. But the federal funds will end in June, and huge state budget cuts are anticipated, as well. Diane Dubose, the district's Reading Recovery teacher/leader, joined Scott and other educators in their support of the literacy program. One of Scott's assignments at East Aiken is working with kids in the after-school program, encouraging them to learn to read. About 20 years ago, Scott was a first-grader at Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary/Middle School. He credited the Reading Recovery program - intensive one-on-one sessions with a specialist - with helping him learn to read. His Reading Recovery teacher was Dubose. "She helped me improve my comprehension, my reading skills, writing and spelling," Scott said. "I gained more confidence to participate in the classroom and other school settings." Hearing such comments from Scott means everything, Dubose told School Board members. "I've been a part of Reading Recovery so long," she said. "There are so many more like Antonio, and the students remember this even when they graduate from high school. It makes such a positive impact on them." The district's literacy model also includes small-group instruction. Reading Recovery teachers and other interventionists spent part of their day in classrooms working with struggling readers, which also serves to model strategies for classroom teachers. Board members expressed their appreciation for the program. Wesley Hightower and Donna Wesby want to expand the program to additional middle schools, if possible. Another trustee, Vice Chairman Ray Fleming, noted that the Reading Recovery program was cut back in the 1990s for budget reasons. "I hope we can get very creative and find a way to keep this program from being dismantled," he said. Rose Marshall, the principal at Busbee-Corbett Elementary/Middle School, said she has been an educator for 32 years. "The literacy model we're currently using is the best reading to intervene with these students, to make sure they get support in every way," she said. District administrators are looking at the possibility of using federal Title I and special education allocations in support of the literacy initiatives, said Associate Superintendent Dr. Kevin O'Gorman. "We've seen the benefits of the program, but it all depends on the economy," he said. "We're always trying to cut to save money, but the last thing we want to cut is prime instructional time." Contact Rob Novit at rnovit@aikenstandard.com.