Columbus City Schools will receive a $1.2-million grant over the next three years to help two area schools, including Northland High School, institute smaller learning communities.

Columbus City Schools will receive a $1.2-million grant over the next three years to help two area schools, including Northland High School, institute smaller learning communities.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Columbus Board of Education unanimously agreed to accept a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Smaller Learning Communities Program.

The other school that will benefit from the grant is Marion-Franklin High School.

"The purpose of the small-school community is to create a more nurturing environment," said Mary Jo Reinhard, the primary grant writer and school and community resource coordinator. "The whole purpose of the funding is to have students achieve by personalizing their education to make them feel like they are part of something."

"It will help with the transition to a new school, to the demands of high school," Reinhard added.

This will be the first year the program will be instituted at both Northland and Marion-Franklin. It has already been started at Brookhaven High School.

Over time, the program will grow to encompass all grades.

"The freshmen, rather than just being in the freshman class, will be teamed and each one of these teams will then have the same core group of academic teachers," Reinhard said.

There will be four groups of freshmen in each school.

One of the grant requirements was to have more than 1,000 students in the school. Northland's enrollment is estimated at 1,158 students, while Marion-Franklin has 1,025 students.

"It's something like going to Ohio State and being one of 50,000 students," Sheila Scott, curriculum and career education supervisor, said about large schools.

By having a relatively limited number of teachers, the program allows information about students to be passed along more easily.

"You have a group of teachers who work as a team to work together to make sure they are achieving," Reinhard said. "They are not having to deal with all the freshmen, they are dealing the freshmen on their team."

CCS spokesman Michael Straughter said small learning communities are a trend in larger school districts.

"I've really seen a push for smaller schools and if you can't build smaller schools, let's break down a larger school," Straughter said.

The grant allowed each school to add two additional staff members, a career and college adviser and a small learning communities coordinator, Scott said.

"All the staff at each of these schools have been cut to bare bones because of funding issues," Reinhard said. "Going for these grant funds has allowed us to put support staff back into the school in order to add the things to get student ready for college."

Reinhard said Northland's staff came up with the idea and sought the grant.

"This is not something being forced upon these schools," she said. "They looked into this concept and said, 'Let's go for this. Let's give it a try.'"

The balance of the $1.2 million will be spent on training and will be split evenly between the two high schools.

dcross@thisweeknews.com