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October 18, 2018

One Child and One Family at a Time

Editor’s Note: This post is based on the speech Kirsten Russell, director of community investment for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, gave at the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Community Update Breakfast on October 17, 2018.

On behalf of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Board, staff and donors, we are delighted to be the Sarasota Lead for the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR).

We approach our grade-level reading (GLR) efforts through a two-generation lens. We don’t focus solely on the child or the parent, rather on a continuum of support for both children and parents together with the goal of harnessing a family’s full potential. Ascend at the Aspen Institute uses core components that work in unison to create opportunities for families living in poverty. Ascend helps us to envision a country that provides a legacy of economic security and educational success that passes from one generation to the next.

Think for a moment about gears and their purpose—they are used for transmitting power from one part of a machine to another—maybe you’re thinking of a bike, car, or clock. I’m thinking of our community—a place where gears make our life easier. They allow us to change direction and speed. To accelerate. They also require something to set them in motion as they work together to transmit power.

This is what’s happening in Sarasota as our community partners come alongside families and engage with them, listen to their aspirations, and help align resources and opportunities to achieve goals. The gears begin to move with greater power and efficiency.

What happens to families and communities when the gears move in unison? We know that high-quality early education yields a 7-10% ROI—as high as 13% when parents are engaged—based on school and career readiness as well as reduced social costs. A parent’s level of educational attainment is a strong predictor of student success. A $3,000 increase in parents’ income when their child is young is associated with a 17% increase in the child’s future earnings. If a child is unwell, it can affect attendance and learning in school, and a parent’s illness can impact their ability to earn or perform at work. Physical and mental health has a major impact on a family’s ability to thrive. Social capital builds on the strength and resilience of families, bolstering the aspirations parents have for their children and themselves.

What does this look like in real life?

This. A celebration.

A community of partners—many represented here today— Alta Vista, the Adult & Community Enrichment Center at Suncoast Technical College (STC), Early Learning Coalitions, Wilkinson Elementary, Children First, Sarasota Housing Authority, Women’s Resource Center, Parenting Matters… each provides resources and opportunities for families to help them realize their dreams. For example, a single mom who grew up in foster care now lives in public housing. She put her 2-year-old son in an Early Head Start program were he’s exposed to caring staff and a stimulating environment. Her two elementary students attend different schools but are thriving academically. Yes, they are both reading above grade level and are in advance work classes with exposure to ballet and football. Mom has been working toward her LPN and just completed the program at STC in August. Their trajectory is changing, and their story continues. Mom has tasted and achieved educational success. Economic security is on the horizon. She is deeply invested in the quality of her children’s education. The gears are in motion, and she won’t let them stop until the opportunity gap closes for her children.

We are fortunate that all sectors of our community are committed to a holistic approach to GLR. Improving educational outcomes for our children and their parents is the best way to elevate families out of poverty.

The GLR movement is a marathon, not a sprint. These are our kids. Our community. Our collective future. The only thing worse than these families giving up, is us giving up on them. Together we harness the potential to close the opportunity gap—one child and one family at a time.

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