If they say it’s differences that can bring people together — that’s certainly true, especially when it comes to uniting two counties around education as they work to combat the most common obstacles children face as they learn to read to succeed in school and in life.
Nationally, the statistics are troubling: 67 percent of all children — and 80 percent of those from low-income families — fail to read on grade level by the end of third grade. Failing to address this issue would be a major setback for everything from preparing our nation to compete in a global economy and closing the achievement gap to reducing high school dropout rates and working to end intergenerational poverty.
Through the new Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading — an effort of Manatee and Sarasota counties — lead supporters have stepped up to endorse a shared vision for success, marking a new beginning for the way the counties work together to share ideas, strategies, and learning opportunities. They include the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Manatee Community Foundation, Sarasota County Schools, School District of Manatee County, The Patterson Foundation, United Way of Manatee County and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
As a senior consultant to the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, I can tell you this is significant. I work with the network of 167 communities in 41 states that are focused on making measurable progress on some of the most significant barriers to low-income children reading proficiently — school readiness, school attendance and summer learning. Through the power of passionate communities, these barriers have become opportunities to create a more promising future locally and beyond.
The approach of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading demonstrates how two communities can individually put stakes in the ground to make progress but also shows they can commit to accelerating their work by meeting regularly and sharing what’s working and why. Agreeing to work together to complement each other provides the benefits — especially from an awareness point of view — to achieve economies of scale.
This kind of commitment isn’t without challenges. It involves creating an infrastructure in Manatee and Sarasota counties to operate both separately and together. Creating that infrastructure and blazing a path forward takes time, coordination and constant communication. When it comes to nonprofits, individuals, schools and community organizations doing evidence-based work — there’s a need to aggregate these efforts and evaluate results that will uplift the overall campaign in this region.
When it comes down to it, the ultimate promise and indicator of success is this: how are kids helped to become proficient readers? Working together increases these odds for shorter and longer-term success. A brighter future for our children is a brighter future for all of us.