Editor’s Note: Thanks to Kathy Silverberg for sharing this post. Kathy traveled with the Sarasota group to learn more about the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and its potential for impact in Sarasota.
The way to get the public’s attention is to drive home the message that too many of America’s school children are not learning to read. That was the message from Ron Fairchild with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national initiative supported by The Patterson Foundation and others.
He was among those who gathered in Palm Beach Sept. 18 along with Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation, and David Biemesderfer of the Florida Philanthropic Network, who co-facilitated a conversation highlighting programs that are working in communities across the state, and 29 other individuals interested in learning more.
The Community Foundation of Sarasota County was also on hand at this meeting as it is heading up the effort to include Sarasota among the network of cities involved in the initiative.
Currently, nine communities in Florida are a part of the network.
The Grade-Level Reading initiative includes a three-pronged attack focusing on school readiness, the summer learning drop-off and chronic absenteeism.
Prior to the funders meeting, the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County held its annual Mayors’ Literacy Luncheon that kicks off reading initiatives including having public officials read books to schoolchildren across the county.
Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that promotes the role of attendance in academic success, energized the luncheon crowd by focusing on the need to address the problem of too many children missing too many days of school.
Chen, who has done extensive research to identify the problem, urged listeners to take a strategic approach, first by getting accurate data and then investigating to determine why children are missing school.
She said research indicates that up to 40 percent of children who are chronically absent do not read at grade level and are therefore much more apt to drop out of school.
Each community must decide what efforts will work best in a particular area, Chen said, but she stressed the key is people understanding that attendance matters. The time to address the problem is early in a child’s academic career when it is much easier to fix.
In the end, it is about letting children know there is someone who cares enough to make sure they attend school.