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February 21, 2019

Entering as Individuals, Exiting as a Mighty Team

As the clock approached 4:00pm the room started to fill. Seventy-four individuals entered. School district administrators, representatives from Boys & Girls Clubs, Community Centers, Public Housing complexes, Parks & Recreation programs, Public Libraries, Summer educators, business men and women, and nonprofit leaders came together to learn more about the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s 2019 Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge.

At first, the room was relatively quiet. A few people knew each other and exchanged pleasantries while others helped themselves to the delicious snacks provided by the generosity of The Patterson Foundation. People took their seats and were mostly silent as they waited for the program to begin.

Everyone was asked to think of a time when they were inspired to action as a result of reading something in a book. I shared about a strong desire I had to visit the Grand Canyon prompted by two books I read in elementary school, Henry Reed, Inc. and Henry Reed’s Journey. Then I asked everyone to share their answers with their neighbors. The atmosphere in the room immediately changed.

Within just a few seconds there was a steady buzz of conversation. Bursts of laughter, a great deal of head nodding, and an increase in volume quickly followed. The conversations became so robust that it took several attempts before the room settled down. We had just experienced a real-life example of the power of books and the power of connection. The simple act of sharing this personal information began to give us a group identity.

The bonds strengthened as we reviewed the urgent need for high-quality summer learning experiences:
1. By 5th grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students 2 1/2 to 3 years behind their peers.
2. 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare.*
3. More than 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th-grade level.*
4. Low-income children typically lose 2 to 3 months of reading skills during the summer months.

And as we shared and celebrated the success of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s 2018 Suncoast Summer Book Challenge, we were reminded that together we are not individuals, instead, we are one mighty team of caring adults committed to making sure our children experience academic success.

• 4,915 children completed the challenge by reading at least 6 books.
• A total of 126,787 books were read.
• 62% of the participating summer locations experienced no loss of reading skills during the summer.
• 96% of the participating students performed better than the national average.

Hildy Gottlieb of Creating the Future introduced the term Collective Enoughness during her workshops for the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading earlier this year, defining it as
the theory that together we have everything we need. It is only on our own that we experience scarcity.

During the discussion period, we experienced collective abundance when we asked how we might further strengthen the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge in 2019. We were told of a school in South Sarasota County that didn’t have access to the school library during the summer. Quickly, a school district administrator promised to work with the school to make sure the library would be opened so summer school educators and students would have access to books, a librarian from the public libraries pledged to work with the school to increase access to the public library collection during the summer, and a teaching artist reported a surplus of books she’d be happy to share. And so our mighty team went from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance.

Our collective abundance also included shared ideas. One of the women from an area nonprofit shared how her attitude about including reading at their summer camp had changed as a result of participating in the Summer Blast Off event. She said hearing and then acting on the idea of taking children outside to read had changed “everything.” Now she and the children look forward to reading as one of the bright spots of their day. You could see pens moving as others captured that “great idea.” I imagine many children throughout the Suncoast region will be “Reading in Nature” this summer.

Still, another participant shared that she had struggled at the beginning of last summer wondering how she could possibly add reading to an already packed Summer Camp Schedule. She explained that her colleague had helped her to feel the personal responsibility of their children’s success and they “flipped the notion around” and decided they needed to make reading central in every activity, including lunch. The children and the summer staff embraced every opportunity to read. Not only did they enjoy reading and sharing about their favorite books, but they also increased reading skills by a month.

The idea of each of us feeling a personal responsibility for our children’s success connected with the group, with many voicing an increased commitment to include more children in the important task of Summer Learning.

We entered as individuals, and exited as a mighty team!

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