The William Penn Foundation will announce more than $3.2 million in grants Wednesday to fund a modern arts home on the Delaware waterfront, expand a successful early literacy program, and encourage appreciation of the environment - by getting out in it.

The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe will get $1.5 million; the Children's Literacy Initiative will get $1 million; and four environmental stewardship groups will share $715,000.

The grants signal implementation of the foundation's new 10-year strategic vision, which focuses on closing the achievement gap for low-income children, protecting the region's water quality, and making its creative community more vibrant.

The plan was developed during the tenure of president Jeremy Nowak, who abruptly left his position in November. Officials cited "differences in approach regarding implementation."

Helen Davis Picher, the foundation's director of evaluation and planning, was named interim president.

The Philly Fringe grant will help complete the group's new facility in a former water-pumping station at the foot of the Race Street Pier.

Picher said the project would demonstrate "the power of cultural activity to revitalize and animate long-neglected urban spaces."

Having a home space will allow the group to present modern arts year-round, producing director Nick Stuccio said.

The literacy initiative works with school officials and teachers to improve how they teach reading and writing to children in prekindergarten through third grade.

Third grade is a turning point, when children finish learning to read and start reading to learn.

"With only 13 percent of Philadelphia's fourth graders reading on grade level, too much is at stake," said Kelly Hunter, the initiative's executive director.

Experts say that students who cannot read well by third grade are far more likely to drop out of high school.

The foundation's $1 million grant is a challenge, requiring the literacy initiative to raise an additional $2 million. The money will allow it to add six schools to its pool of 10 "model" schools that get three years of coaching, training, and resources, with the idea of developing a professional network to continue the work afterward.

In West Philadelphia's Powell Elementary, 55.6 percent of first graders were reading at grade level. One year into the initiative's program, the number rose to 78.3 percent.

The environmental grants have twin components of stewardship and physical activity outdoors.

They center on the region's expanding trail network. Dubbed "the circuit," it is a planned 750 miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails. So far, 250 miles are complete; 50 more are in progress. (See connectthecircuit.org.)

Outward Bound Philadelphia will get $165,000 to integrate water-quality education into its youth programs, chiefly multiday backpacking expeditions on the trails.

"Once you're out experiencing it firsthand, you recognize its value," executive director Katie Newsom Pastuszek said.

The Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, which owns the land encompassing Friends Hospital, will get $82,500 to develop educational programs along a new portion of the Tacony Creek Trail, part of which runs through the hospital's 100-acre campus.

Scattergood president Joseph Pyle said the money would fund a staffer to help the community "use the green space to improve health."

The YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties will get $110,000 to expand CYCLE - a youth biking program developed with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Youths will learn about watershed issues in classrooms, and then they and their families will mount bicycles, riding to wetlands along the Delaware.

"Let's go wade in the water; let's see what it looks like in the real world," said Curtis Myers, the YMCA's Camden County expansion executive.

The Wildlands Conservancy will get $360,000 for environmental education and recreation along waterways in Reading, Allentown, and Bethlehem.

The foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, has assets of nearly $2 billion. It distributes $80 million in grants annually.

Contact Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147, sbauers@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @sbauers. Read her blog, GreenSpace, at www.philly.com/greenspace.