Network Helps Diverse Communities Improve Third-Grade Reading

Posted February 7, 2013
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog diversenetworkonreading 2013

Even in mid-July, the Robert L. Bai­ley, IV Ele­men­tary School in Prov­i­dence is abuzz with activ­i­ty as 120 chil­dren pop­u­late a sum­mer pro­gram run joint­ly with the YMCA to help pre­pare preschool­ers for school, boost aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance and pre­vent chil­dren from los­ing ground over the summer.

The pro­gram pro­vides break­fast and lunch, read­ing and math inter­ven­tion, enrich­ment activ­i­ties and edu­ca­tion­al field trips.

In one class­room, par­ents who are not native Eng­lish speak­ers are learn­ing the mean­ing and pro­nun­ci­a­tion of vocab­u­lary words and syn­onyms. Now, I can help my daugh­ter with her spelling tests and check her work, and she is hap­py when I come to class to talk to her teacher,” says Nel­ly Alvarez.

At the Brook­field Ele­men­tary School in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, chil­dren in kinder­garten to sec­ond grade who would oth­er­wise strug­gle to stay afloat are reap­ing gains in lit­er­a­cy and read­ing through Super Stars Lit­er­a­cy — a non­prof­it found­ed 10 years ago by the Junior League of Oak­land-East Bay that pro­vides live­ly after-school ses­sions and one-on-one tutor­ing by Ameri-Corps members.

What do Oak­land and Prov­i­dence have in com­mon? Both cities have a long his­to­ry of mobi­liz­ing for­mi­da­ble coali­tions to strength­en fam­i­lies and improve out­comes for vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, in part stem­ming from their involve­ment in the Casey Foundation’s Mak­ing Con­nec­tions ini­tia­tive. And both are part of a nation­al net­work ded­i­cat­ed to ensur­ing that all chil­dren, what­ev­er obsta­cles they face, read on grade lev­el by the end of the third grade.

Every year, 68% of America’s chil­dren, and more than 80% of chil­dren from low-income fam­i­lies, miss this crit­i­cal mile­stone. Because third grade is the piv­otal year when chil­dren should shift from learn­ing to read to read­ing to learn, fail­ing to read pro­fi­cient­ly at this junc­ture great­ly increas­es the odds of fail­ing to com­plete high school and suc­ceed in a career. Research shows that chil­dren from low-income fam­i­lies not read­ing at grade lev­el by the end of third grade are up to 13 times less like­ly to grad­u­ate from high school on time, com­pared with their more afflu­ent peers.

The Cam­paign for Grade-Lev­el Read­ing, launched with Casey lead­er­ship in 2010, is a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort by fun­ders, non­prof­it part­ners, states and com­mu­ni­ties across the nation com­mit­ted to:

  • Qual­i­ty teach­ing for every child every day in every set­ting, from home to child care to school.
  • Com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven efforts to ensure that chil­dren are ready for school, attend reg­u­lar­ly and do not lose ground over the summer.
  • A seam­less sys­tem of care, ser­vices and sup­port for chil­dren from birth through third grade and their families.

In June 2012, 124 cities, coun­ties and towns became part of the Grade-Lev­el Read­ing Com­mu­ni­ties Net­work, a com­mu­ni­ty of places launch­ing com­pre­hen­sive, local­ly owned plans to improve school readi­ness, reduce chron­ic absence and pro­mote sum­mer learn­ing to put stu­dents on track for third-grade read­ing success.

The net­work — rep­re­sent­ing 34 states, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, Puer­to Rico, the U.S. Vir­gin Islands, 350 school dis­tricts and more than 8 mil­lion school chil­dren — was launched at a Den­ver gath­er­ing to announce recip­i­ents of the Nation­al Civic League’s annu­al All-Amer­i­ca City Award. The league teamed up with the Cam­paign for Grade-Lev­el Read­ing, the Nation­al League of Cities and Unit­ed Way World­wide to make grade-lev­el read­ing the focus of its 2012 awards. They hon­ored 14 sites with the most robust Com­mu­ni­ty Solu­tions Action Plans to tack­le ear­ly lit­er­a­cy. Prov­i­dence was one of them. But all the com­mu­ni­ties that applied are reap­ing ben­e­fits from the tech­ni­cal sup­port, infor­ma­tion and access to experts that the net­work provides.

Com­ing Togeth­er in Oakland

The Oak­land Lit­er­a­cy Coali­tion is a net­work of lit­er­a­cy ser­vice providers, foun­da­tions, busi­ness­es and city and school dis­trict offi­cials con­vened by the Rogers Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion in 2008. The coali­tion part­nered with May­or Jean Quan’s Office to gar­ner wide­spread sup­port in devel­op­ing Oak­land Reads 2020, an ear­ly lit­er­a­cy cam­paign the city launched to pur­sue the goals of the nation­al campaign.

The Grade-Lev­el Read­ing Cam­paign has had a tremen­dous impact on us and helped us gal­va­nize a range of play­ers from the may­or to gov­ern­ment agen­cies and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions,” says Cassie Per­ham, direc­tor of lit­er­a­cy grants at the Rogers Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion. It encour­aged us to put a stake in the ground and set a goal to ensure that 85% of our third graders are read­ing pro­fi­cient­ly in 2020,” up from 42% in 2011. Cur­rent­ly, only 33% of chil­dren from low-income fam­i­lies read pro­fi­cient­ly. It’s not about win­ning an award but about how we as a com­mu­ni­ty can come togeth­er to meet this goal.”

Brook­field is one of 10 East Bay schools served by the Super Stars Lit­er­a­cy pro­gram, which coach­es Ameri­Corps mem­bers and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teers to inun­date under­per­form­ing chil­dren from kinder­garten through sec­ond grade with tutor­ing dur­ing and after school. Some 60% to 80% of par­tic­i­pants accel­er­ate their read­ing progress by at least one grade lev­el each year. The pro­gram also works with par­ents and takes them on edu­ca­tion­al field trips with their children.

Oak­land Reads 2020 has bro­ken down some silos that had exist­ed among lit­er­a­cy providers and relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions in the past, and we’re learn­ing quite a bit from each oth­er,” says Mike Mow­ery, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Super Stars Literacy.

Sol­id Sup­port in Providence

Prov­i­dence had a sol­id base to com­pete for the All-Amer­i­ca City Award, with a strong focus on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy stem­ming from Mak­ing Con­nec­tions. Rhode Island also has fed­er­al Race to the Top and Race to the Top-Ear­ly Learn­ing Chal­lenge grants, and Prov­i­dence was the first city select­ed in Casey’s Evidence2Success ini­tia­tive, which pro­motes pro­grams proven by research to fos­ter children’s healthy development.

May­or Angel Taveras, the city’s first Lati­no may­or and a grad­u­ate of Head Start as well as Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty and George­town Law School, is a vice chair for grade-lev­el read­ing for the U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors. His office heads Prov­i­dence Reads, an effort backed by the Mayor’s Chil­dren and Youth Cab­i­net. It has a 25-mem­ber Grade-Lev­el Read­ing Work­ing Group rep­re­sent­ing 19 agencies.

It is real­ly impor­tant to me that we are suc­cess­ful in edu­cat­ing our kids, because I see the chil­dren in our schools and they remind me of what a life­line edu­ca­tion was for me,” says Taveras, who was encour­aged by a school teacher to pur­sue his dream to become a lawyer. He wrote a book called How to Do Well in School, which he reads to chil­dren at libraries and schools. Libraries play a key role in Prov­i­dence Reads, offer­ing free after-school and sum­mer activ­i­ties to stim­u­late reading.

The city’s efforts are also sup­ple­ment­ed by fed­er­al fund­ing for full-ser­vice com­mu­ni­ty schools and non­prof­it pro­grams like Inspir­ing Minds, which helps bridge the per­for­mance gap between low-income chil­dren and their peers through tutor­ing, kinder­garten prepa­ra­tion and pro­grams for parents.

Only half of Providence’s chil­dren enter school with preschool expe­ri­ence. How­ev­er, Rhode Island recent­ly adopt­ed a new school fund­ing for­mu­la that includes pre‑K, and a 10-year plan to boost slots is under­way. Through its Ear­ly Learn­ing Chal­lenge grant, the state is also expand­ing its five-star qual­i­ty child care rat­ing sys­tem that chal­lenges child care pro­grams to meet a set of qual­i­ty standards.

Our goal is to have all pro­grams involved in the rat­ing sys­tem in 2013,” says Leslie Gell, direc­tor of Ready to Learn Prov­i­dence, a non­prof­it that helps child care providers get expand­ed train­ing. She also cochairs the city’s Grade-Lev­el Read­ing Work­ing Group with Eliz­a­beth Burke Bryant, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

Chron­ic absence is anoth­er bar­ri­er. In 20112012, 32 per­cent of Prov­i­dence kinder­gart­ners missed at least 10% of the school year, and 26% of chil­dren from kinder­garten through third grade were chron­i­cal­ly absent. The Prov­i­dence Children’s Ini­tia­tive, launched in 2010 by Fam­i­ly Ser­vice of R.I., fol­lowed up with the par­ents of some chron­i­cal­ly absent chil­dren at Mary E. Fog­a­r­ty Ele­men­tary School. They found issues rang­ing from a lack of safe trans­porta­tion to par­ents work­ing the third shift and being too tired to wake their children.

Through solu­tions like get­ting vol­un­teers to help walk chil­dren Casey con­nects 15 to school or the near­est bus stop and offer­ing child care as ear­ly as 6:30 a.m., the ini­tia­tive improved school atten­dance for the 50 fam­i­lies involved. Work is also under­way to address envi­ron­men­tal haz­ards in homes and schools that affect children’s health. With­out the data, you can’t take the next step of inform­ing what the prac­tice will be,” says Michelle Cortés-Harkins, direc­tor of the Prov­i­dence Children’s Initiative.

Dana Gist Williams shift­ed her 10-year-old daugh­ter Maris­sa Ben­ton to Bai­ley from anoth­er school she felt was dan­ger­ous, and the ser­vices at Bai­ley have helped her and her daugh­ter sur­vive tough times. They fol­low the chil­dren from grade to grade, and the team relays infor­ma­tion to the next teacher” to pro­vide the right aca­d­e­m­ic and sup­port ser­vices, says Williams, who has joined a new par­ent-teacher orga­ni­za­tion at the school. The par­ents who come to the PTO are very hap­py, because they treat them with respect and have the edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams chil­dren need.”

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