BRADENTON -- Manatee and Sarasota counties will combine forces to form the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, creating new opportunities for two separate efforts with the same goal, officials announced Monday.
The national campaign aims to have students reading on grade level by the third grade. About 67 percent of all students, including 80 percent from low-income families, do not read on grade level by the end of third grade, which leads to long-term negative life consequences.
Manatee and Sarasota county officials previously launched campaigns to address the issue -- Manatee in October 2014 and Sarasota about three years ago.
"A communitywide vision makes sense for these neighboring counties that were both accepted to become part of the national campaign," said Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation, which supports the national Cam
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paign for Grade-Level Reading and the Suncoast Campaign, in a statement.
"Our voice can be louder if we have one voice for the region," she said Monday.
Each community joining the campaign creates a community solutions action plan. The two counties will partner where it makes sense, but will work on their own initiatives as well.
Manatee and Sarasota counties have 60 percent and 57 percent of students in pre-k through third grade, respectively, who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches -- an indicator of family economic instability for nearly 17,000 students in the two-county region, according to officials.
More than 168 communities are part of the national campaign, which has five areas of focus: school readiness/early learning, chronic absence, summer learning, healthy readers and parent/family engagement.
In Manatee County, community partners have been meeting regularly since October and have split into different teams, said Bronwyn Beightol, senior vice president of the United Way of Manatee County. Volunteers will focus on attendance and summer learning loss, she said.
The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Manatee Community Foundation, school districts of Manatee and Sarasota counties, The Patterson Foundation, United Way of Manatee County and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee will all be part of the campaign.
"Ensuring that all of our children have the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond is a community responsibility," said Philip Brown, president of the United Way of Manatee County, in a statement. "The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a vehicle for ensuring that we can mobilize all of our community's resources, organizations, employers, public entities and individuals to be focused on the success of all of our children -- both individually and collectively."
To learn more about the campaign visit gradelevelreadingsuncoast.net.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.