The campaign’s annual community breakfast brought together literacy advocates from across the region who discussed strategy and coordination.
SARASOTA — The Patterson Foundation president and CEO Debra Jacobs channeled Mary Poppins when she encouraged a group of roughly 300 community leaders to persevere in their efforts to get kids reading Wednesday morning.
“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Jacobs said, quoting the world’s most beloved nanny.
Jacob’s exhortation to embrace your inner child came at the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s annual Community Update Breakfast at Michael’s on East in Sarasota.
The event brought together representatives from Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties, along with leaders from the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading who are focused on improving child literacy rates in all four counties.
Beth Duda, executive director of the Suncoast Campaign, highlighted the dire consequences for children who cannot read on grade level by the end of third grade—a metric that researchers often focus on because of how reliably it indicates future success.
“Low levels of literacy are firmly associated with high levels of poverty,” Duda said.
SCGLR partners with a wide array of initiatives that leaders say each play a role in improving reading abilities. The campaign’s five main strategies are to reduce chronic absenteeism, improve summer education and early learning programs, engage families and provide health services to low-income families.
Progress has not been easy, and despite a raft of initiatives, the percentage of third graders reading on grade level dropped in all four counties last year. Many of the Suncoast Campaign’s programs are aimed at young children, so leaders are hoping to see the fruit of their efforts in the coming years.
“The Grade-Level reading movement is a marathon; it is not a sprint,” said Kirsten Russell, director of community investment for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the campaign’s lead partner in Sarasota.
A handful of community leaders were recognized for their efforts to advance child literacy in the last year.
Duda received high praise from Ron Fairchild, a senior consultant with the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
“Sometimes there are stars that burn a little bit brighter than others,” Fairchild said. “Sometimes there are superstars. I can think of no finer community lead in this country than Beth Duda.”
By the numbers:
What percentage of children in the Suncoast region are reading on grade level by the end of third grade?
This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at https://www.gradelevelreadingsuncoast.net/category/solutions-journalism-partnership/.