Diana Greene sent this community a dynamic and stirring message with her presentation last Thursday at a gathering of civic and business leaders. So did Bronwyn Beightol, senior vice president of the United Way of Manatee County.
Both delivered speeches at a United Way event introducing an initiative that carries great potential for the future well-being of generations of children struggling to comprehend the written word. Greene, as the superintendent of the Manatee County School District, clearly recognizes the challenges ahead in educating a population that could confront a lifetime of disadvantage, all for want of strong reading skills. Children must be able to read competently by the end of third grade or by age 9. Otherwise, research shows those children fall far behind their classmates and are likely destined to a lifetime of underachieving.
Beightol is also very familiar with this desperate situation, too, as one of the leaders of the county’s participation in a nationwide movement called the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The initiative unveiled Thursday, called Manatee Mind Trust, intends to accomplish a simple goal — the same one behind the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, but this one focused on challenging the community to actively join this significant and urgent effort.
The United Way’s opening of its 2016-2017 fund- and volunteer-raising campaign was aptly named the Manatee Mind Trust crusade. And a crusade it is. By definition, a crusade is a major effort to change something. Manatee Mind Trust qualifies as one.
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Greene likely shocked her audience of more than 100 with two statistics: More than 1,275 third-graders cannot read at grade level. That number comes into sharper focus with another one: That figure represents one out of every three third-graders.
Then she delivered another startling statement: “The United States has built its prison system based on the number of retained third-graders.”
Shame on America for this failure in education. We can and must do better. This is not the lone responsibility of public education. Parents and families bear an obligation, too.
Beightol relayed how United Way’s interviews with 400 community members revealed that most understand slow readers need help. Everyone can join this cause.
Volunteering to read to a child for as little as an hour a week would be tremendous. Nearby elementary schools — and students — would be grateful. The school district suffers from low academic scores from state tests primarily because of reading deficiencies, especially in Title 1 schools in poor neighborhoods. Children hearing the written word from an adult reading a book helps, as study after study shows.
Under the Manatee Mind Trust banner, the school district, the United Way and all their dozens of partners in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading want to engage philanthropists, employers and volunteers in joining this passionate movement to give disadvantaged children a greater opportunity to achieve the American dream.
United Way already operates vigorous programs with volunteers, ReadingPals and See Spot Read. More than 7,000 books have been distributed to children. Plus, the organization’s Footsteps2Brilliance app has given children 44,000 words to contemplate. The school district also implores community members to enter schools to read to children.
This past school year, the district enjoyed a superior start to a new student attendance program to combat chronic absenteeism by deploying “graduation enhancement technicians” — GETs, if you will — in Title 1 schools. They work with families to address and solve the problem. This is just one of the strategies behind the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Obviously, a child cannot advance reading skills by failing to attend school.
Note that this year’s United Way’s annual campaign is not just about money, but also about recruiting volunteers to join the crusade. Interested? Call the social service agency at 941-748-1313.