Sweeney Elementary School principal Bill Beacham got a big shock Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., announced Wednesday that Beacham’s school was the recipient of an $812,014 federal grant for improving bilingual education and literacy. The school district is still waiting for confirmation of the grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“I hadn’t heard anything about this, but if it’s true, it’s the best news I’ve heard for years and years,” Beacham said.

Funding for the first year of the program would be $190,000, Bingaman said in a news release. The rest of the money would be spread out evenly over the next four years, for a total of five years of funding, the release said.

The school submitted the grant application to the Department of Education on Jan. 26, said Robert Ricci, the grant writer for the Santa Fe Public Schools. He said he hadn’t received confirmation as of Wednesday evening either.

“We asked for $812,014, and it sounds like we got it,” Ricci said. “It’s going to make a major difference to the bilingual program at Sweeney. Sweeney has the biggest need for revitalization of the bilingual program to meet the needs of immigrant children.”

The bulk of the money will go toward providing bilingual services for students, Beacham said, including an afterschool program, he said.

“If we can keep 100 bilingual kids here at the school from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., give them a recreation and snack break and then hit them with another round of literacy improvement, it would make such a difference,” he said. “Right now, they go home to empty apartments. When their parents get home from work, many of them are too tired to work with their kids.”

Stocking the library with bilingual materials and keeping the library open in the evenings and in the summer is another way to improve the literacy skills of bilingual students, Beacham said. This was part of the grant proposal, he said.

Another portion of the grant would go toward tuition to help bilingual instructional assistants to become licensed teachers and to help certified teachers get their bilingual or English as a Second Language certifications.

The district also would provide matching money for training and staffing of programs, Ricci said.

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