William Russell, president and CEO of the Sarasota Housing Authority, came back energized from joining the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) in Colorado for the All-America City Awards Ceremony where SCGLR was awarded the All-America City Award for their work on moving the needle for grade-level reading in Sarasota County and Manatee County. Although the Sarasota Housing Authority has worked with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, William was charged with creating exciting ideas on ways to get the community involved. As soon as he came back to town, he connected with me to devise a plan of how the Sarasota Housing Authority could make connections in the community. A few days later with the help of Ken Waters, Vice President of Residential Services, we set up a meeting with the Sarasota Housing Authority employees and some of their key partners. Mary Brown from the North Sarasota Library assisted in connecting the space and speaking at the event.
On the morning of Wednesday, June 28, 2017, just a few weeks after William’s trip to Colorado, a meeting of over 40 attendees took place. William began the meeting thanking everyone for coming on such short notice. He instilled in the attendees that the only way we can see a great change is if the community gets behind this movement – for the children. He encouraged everyone to listen for ways they can connect with the kids and families about the importance of reading. “This needs to be a boots on the ground type of movement from the people who are out in the community.” He shared how easy it was for someone working in the park to share Vroom, the free parental engagement app that turns an everyday moment into a Brain Building Moment.
Beth Duda, the Director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, began her segment of the program by reinforcing the need for this to be a community movement and showed the Zip Code Lottery Statistics video.
She went on to share that the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, and states and communities across the nation to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. The Campaign focuses on the most important predictor of school success and high school graduation — grade-level reading by the end of third grade.
Research shows that proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn – mastering the more complex subject matter they encounter in the fourth-grade curriculum. Most students who fail to reach this critical milestone falter in later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma. Two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders are not proficient readers according to national reading assessment data. This disturbing statistic is made even worse by the fact that four out of five low-income students miss this critical milestone.
Although schools must be accountable for helping all children achieve, the Campaign is based on the belief that schools cannot succeed alone. Communities need to organize and help remove barriers, expand opportunities, and assist parents in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities to serve as full partners in the success of their children.
Mary Brown from North Sarasota library shared the different ways the library is engaging the community. As an example, she shared that the library offers summer reading programs for children and adults. Mary encouraged all Sarasota Housing Authority employees to get a library card and to think about ways that they can be an example to the children in their community.
Following Mary was Kristen Russell who is a consultant at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Her passion for this works stems from her belief that all children can succeed if given the opportunity.
A Question and Answer segment finished the meeting.
Beth, William, and Kirsten continued to share the work and how the community can get involved. Attendees were given the opportunity to sign up for more information and take informative materials on the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Vroom, and Mind in the Making. We even supplied them with a Vroom bag to carry their materials. Many great connections were made and the now we have 40 additional community members ready to support our children and families in closing the gap of grade-level reading.