SWANTON — The Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union was one of four Vermont districts awarded a five-year grant as part of a national initiative to help identify and assist students who have trouble learning.

Four schools in FNWSU — Swanton, Sheldon and Highgate elementary schools and Missisquoi Valley Union — will take advantage of a program called SWIFT (Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation).

The program will provide specialized training for teachers and school staff to focus on children’s combined academic and behavioral issues, said Jack McCarthy, FNWSU superintendent. He said training would be geared toward teachers providing positive reinforcement, which, he added, should come naturally to his staff members.

“One of the big things is being really positive with kids,” he said.

For the first year, Swanton and Sheldon will receive support through the program, said McCarthy. Starting in the second year, Highgate Elementary and Missisquoi Valley Union Middle School will begin participation.

The SWIFT initiative is designed to combine behavioral practices with academic interventions, the superintendent explained. Currently, FNWSU elementary and middle schools have two separate programs to address behavioral and students who struggle to learn, he said, but with the grant, they will look at combining both those programs.

“We looked at these two things in isolation,” McCarthy said. “They shouldn’t be two isolated processes.”

Vermont was one of five states selected for the K-8 SWIFT program, along with New Hampshire, Maryland, Mississippi and Oregon. The $24.5 million initiative is run by University of Kansas researchers who selected Vermont to participate.

Specialized researchers from the University of Kansas will come to the schools throughout the school year to help implement the SWIFT program, McCarthy said.

The SWIFT initiative was funded through the U.S. Department of Education, McCarthy said, because of the success of combining the behavioral and academic processes in pilot programs around the country.

Those early successes and the obvious nature of integrating behavioral and learning practices are a big reason for the optimism around the grant awarded to FNWSU, McCarthy said.

“Our principals are excited,” he said. “To me, it just makes common sense.”

Yearly meetings with the other schools around the nation are another requirement of the grant, McCarthy said. He said the only funding match the schools have to make is from a human resources perspective when hiring substitute teachers for staff members off training.

The Swanton and Sheldon elementary school boards are having a combined board meeting Tuesday, McCarthy said, and meeting with both schools’ co-principals to discuss how the grant will impact staff and students. An overall planning meeting will occur in early October, he said, followed by an official kickoff event to showcase the new program in the schools.

The other school districts awarded the grant in Vermont are the Grand Isle Supervisory Union, Windham Southeast Supervisory Union and Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

The Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) is hoping the SWIFT resources will turn into statewide improvements.

“The resources that SWIFT will bring to the state and the supervisory unions involved build our capacity to improve outcomes for all students,” said Karin Edwards, integrated support for learning director at the AOE. “We are thrilled to be one of the five states selected.”