One of the more startling statistics of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is that each year 80% of 4th graders in low-income families and 66% of all 4th graders are not reading on grade level — that crucial point at which children move from learning to read to reading to learn.
How did we let this happen? Where did we go wrong? The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is working to address the challenge by taking on three actionable areas:
1. School Readiness
3. Summer Learning
All three are approached from the perspective of engaging families and ensuring that our children are healthy.
When we began our efforts to address this challenge in Manatee County, where 49% of our 3rd graders are not reading at grade level, it was all about who is doing what, when, where and how?
It was about what were we going to “do” to begin to make a dent in this great challenge of ours. It’s in these details that I begin to experience the angst that accompanies any obstacle that seems too large to overcome, too tangled to unravel in any meaningful way. There is also that element of… I’m not an educator, nor am I an early childhood expert. Delving into that space, developing programming, tweaking initiatives, building collaborations…that work, as valuable as it is, has the ability to take us off track, to take our focus off of the much larger challenge:
Grade-Level Reading is not actually about reading. It’s about democracy, equity, our ability as individuals to engage in and direct our own lives with satisfaction and fulfillment — that life, liberty and pursuit of happiness thing. All of us. You see, at it’s core, the Campaign is really about working to ensure the future and thrivability of our communities and our nation as a whole.
All of the rhetoric and programming in the world does not address the fact that we have lost that philosophic base that guides us as a nation — the one that reminds us that our children are our most valuable resource. That they hold our promise and our future. A child’s healthy start and early educational success is critical to our humanity.
How do we get to a place, as a nation, where the health and welfare of our children is so intrinsic to our being and embedded into our society that we cannot conceive of not investing in that success to the point of sacrifice?
A healthy and educated child is much more likely to become an engaged and thriving adult — in other words, a contributor to this system of society and an educated member of our workforce.
This isn’t one of those issues where we can simply throw up our hands and say that it doesn’t apply to us. Our children’s success matters to all of us… when one doesn’t do well, all do not do well.
As we think about our individual and collective ability to “move the needle” on grade-level reading success, keep in mind that we are investing in our entire future — a future that is not built upon a person’s ability to read as much as it is the belief that we are all responsible for one another. There is not enough money in the world or that “next big thing in programming” to change a philosophy. That comes with education.