Learning, sharing, evolving, connecting and strengthening are five words that hold great meaning for those of us involved in the work of The Patterson Foundation. The words serve as touchstones for the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading as we strive to better the lives of children in our region and beyond.
Through those themes, we recently shared our work in Birmingham, Ala., with about 65 people involved in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading from communities across the Southeastern United States. Representatives from these communities gathered to share challenges and ideas, learn from the best practices of other communities, and connect with each other.
The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a network of more than 280 communities, focuses on five key solution areas: school readiness, attendance, parent engagement, health and summer learning. This regional meeting, hosted by the Literacy Council of Central Alabama, provided opportunities to share our successes, and take a hard look at our challenges. Sharing in this way allowed us to look at the work we face in new ways.
At The Patterson Foundation, successes and inspired ideas for making positive sustainable change in our community are considered “cookies.” Rather than hoarding the cookies collected, the cookie jar is wide open so learning and sharing can happen freely between individuals and organizations. This sharing helps strengthen our work and the work of others.
This is top of mind as we work with others to improve childhood reading proficiency in our Suncoast region. Forty percent of the children in Manatee and Sarasota counties are unable to read proficiently by the end of third grade. This statistic is alarming because third-grade reading proficiency is predictive of future success. In fact, sociologist Donald Hernandez found that children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma.
Students learn to read during third grade, from then on, they are expected to be able to read to learn. A student not reading proficiently by the end of third grade is in danger of falling further and further behind. This failure to thrive has implications that resonate throughout a community, such as an unprepared workforce, increased rates of incarceration, and a greater need for social supports
There seems to be a growing consensus that sustainable change is going to take time and is not going to be found quickly in a specific reading program, school curriculum, or computer program. The glimmers of hope that were shared by communities beginning to experience progress through the Campaign’s solution areas were created by communities working on systems change.
Meaningful collaboration among agencies, community members, local government, businesses, and the media with shared goals and shared measurements are beginning to produce results. No one agency, foundation, or school system has the answer. It is going to take all of us committed to learning from each other, which means we need to keep adding to the cookie jar…while keeping the lid wide-open.