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Focus on Manatee: Community engagement in education is shifting to results-first approach

Palmetto students “Dive into Reading” at Anna Maria Oyster Bar

Anna Maria Oyster Bar owners John and Amanda Horne have won a national award from the National Restaurant Association for a reading program. Last summer, Horne organized a “Dive Into Reading” program that aimed to increase literacy in students fro
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Anna Maria Oyster Bar owners John and Amanda Horne have won a national award from the National Restaurant Association for a reading program. Last summer, Horne organized a “Dive Into Reading” program that aimed to increase literacy in students fro

There are two alternate realities for the future of Manatee County based on the answer to a simple question. Will we help all of our children read on grade-level?

I’m only betting on one reality — the one created from the momentum of community engagement in education.

Manatee County citizens’ growing involvement in education is inspired by a narrative that many of us know in our sleep. Until third grade, children are learning to read. After third grade, children are reading to learn. When children are far behind, they are already checked out. It’s an early age for a life sentence.

Quality early learning, school attendance, summer learning, strong parent engagement and health determinants can predict a human being’s ultimate success in life. Realizing that the schools cannot be expected to do it all, we are all compelled to act.

The lead partner in the Manatee County’s Grade-Level Reading work, United Way Suncoast, is developing powerful synergies in education based on a results-first approach: starting with the end in mind and then finding the right partners to get there.

At Manatee Community Foundation, we support this work by introducing donors to opportunities to make a difference. We recommend investments in initiatives that provide gains for the people being served.

Susie Bowie mug.jpg
Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.

Three programs — Reach Out and Read, Dive Into Reading and Soar in 4 — were the focus of a community update we hosted this month. Each has several features in common that makes it an excellent example of a sound philanthropic investment.

Most importantly, each program started by identifying a desired outcome in mind: significantly increasing the time parents read with their children, stopping summer learning loss, and ensuring that children are ready for kindergarten with the proper learning and family engagement.

Secondly, the entities involved in designing and executing each initiative work actively with partners in meaningful collaboration. Instead of “owning the space,” they are eager to welcome new contributors that have a results-first mindset and that share resources.

This is motivated by one underlying question, “How can we produce gains for the children and families we are serving?” instead of “How can we protect our own interests in the work?”

Finally, leaders of these programs thrive on learning themselves. They are committed to self-reflection and iterating services to produce a better result, embracing a culture of continuous improvement. That makes them effective both in helping those being served and in attracting donors of all levels who are focused on achievement.

Reach Out and Read targets children from birth to age 5. These young children receive a foundation for success through pediatricians who incorporate books and learning into their care, encouraging families to read aloud together for brain health.

In Manatee and Sarasota counties, 17,000 children from birth to five will participate in Reach Out and Read this year through 11 clinics and 34 trusted local providers. Participating parents are 2.5 times more likely to read to their children more than three times a week, and 13 percent more local families are reporting reading to their child every day through this program.

For early brain development, this means everything.

Dive Into Reading is a summer program focused on social learning time with a meal and one-on-one reading with a mentor. It has successfully attracted donors, community volunteers, and other businesses — literally to the table.

In 2018, vulnerable children participating in the program did not experience summer learning loss. This summer, the program will reach 11 schools and an estimated 450 children through 350 mentors.

Preventing the “summer slide” is a critical piece of the grade-level reading equation.

In Soar in 4, a program of Manatee County Schools focused on learning through play and parent engagement, 98 percent of participating children are demonstrating progress toward school readiness skills for their age. The i-Ready diagnostic data in kindergarten reflects that summer Soar in 4 participants started six weeks ahead of their peers.

These results are powerful. Philanthropy is often viewed as the capital required to encourage innovation.

We thank the School District of Manatee County, businesses such as Anna Maria Oyster Bar, donors such as Steve and Carolyn Roskamp, partner foundations such as The Patterson Foundation and MCR Health, and an army of donors and volunteers for making the difference possible.

A host of other organizations — Art Center Manatee, The Bishop, Forty Carrots Family Center, Ringling Museum and others — are important players.

The single most important thing we can do is to get involved in programs that are focused on gains. Whether you can volunteer your time, connect someone to a resource for their children, or give money, you have a role to play.

Investments in children now will create the community we envision for years to come. You can reach us at (941) 747-7765 if we can help connect you.

Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, a charitable foundation that strengthens the community through philanthropy, education and service — for now and for the future. Email: SBowie@ManateeCF.org. Phone: 941-747-7765.

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