Takeaways from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Week in Denver, Colorado

Effort can be met with success.

Funders, volunteers, public officials and representatives from hundreds of organizations convened in Denver last week to discus successes and strategies associated with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

There were representatives from 45 states; 189 cities, counties and towns; 168 state and community funders; 40 local United Way agencies; and even some folks from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.

It would be nice to be able to sum up the message of the conference into a single sound bite, but people involved in this fight long ago realized that getting children reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade defies simple solutions. If there was a theme to come out of the week, it might be "it takes a village."

Presenters and panelists stressed repeatedly that campaigns need to rally a coalition of passionate individuals and organizations if they want to succeed, all attacking the problem on multiple fronts:

  • Attendance, because kids can't learn if they aren't in school
  • Health, which impacts attendance, economic well-being and the ability to learn when in school
  • School Readiness, because kids are expected to be ready to learn starting the first day of kindergarten
  • Summer Slide, because kids without enriching summer learning opportunities lose the gains they make during the school year

Here are a few things that had the most impact on me during GLR Week:

It seemed that the areas that had the largest success across the board had serious buy-in from local government. Denver itself is a prime example, with Mayor Michael Hancock taking a leading role in mobilizing government resources to complement (and rally) the resources of the community and school system.

School experiences can be the worst. Comer Yates, executive director of the Atlanta Speech School, talked about the importance of not only training teachers in specialized literacy instruction, but also the need for a sea change in how teachers and schools set the stage for learning. This video was devastating. As a parent, I've seen both sides that are presented in the video. I suspect most parents have.

24/7/365. Schools are only a part of the puzzle. To have real impact, you must reach children at home, on the weekend, during the summer, all year-round.

2Gen. To help kids you need to help their parents. Educate them to foster early learning in the homes. Assist them in reaching services that will reduce the burden of toxic stress in the household. Engage them to be partners in the fight.

The gap widens. Even as CGLR moves the needle and helps more children read at grade-level, the gap between low- and high-income students grows. Students in higher income families are making gains at a rate nearly twice that of students in low-income families.

This is everyone's job. No matter your politics, no matter whether you're a parent, no matter if you live in an affluent school district, this fight affects everyone. Kids who read at grade level by the end of third grade are drastically less likely to go to jail, contribute more to the economy and require fewer services and support later in life. As Comer Yates said, "What would we do if a vaccine was distributed based on zip code and ethnicity?"

We know what to do. There is enough science, research and successful practice out there to show what needs to be done. The only challenge is gathering the people, resources and support from policy makers to make it happen. Simple, right? Heh.

Here are takeaways from some of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading representatives who attended GLR Week:

Wayne Applebee
Human Services Manager/Director of Homeless Services, Sarasota County Government

"To address Health Determinants, I was especially impressed with Weirton, WV, where they located the local Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in the elementary school.   The FQHC offers primary care, dental and behavioral health services for students, teachers and the community. Students are able to be seen/treated onsite so that absenteeism is reduced and parents don’t have to miss work to get their children medical and dental care.   It also served the teaching/facility staff for general and urgent care level needs.      

Another important takeaway for me included the broad array of services some states (Georgia) have allowed for Medicaid billing. They have allowed nontraditional services that promote overall wellness of the child to be covered instead of limiting to strict medical services, all with the target to ensure GLR."     

Bronwyn Beightol
Senior VP/COO, United Way of Manatee County

"My biggest takeaway apart from the new strategies and efforts I learned about and brought home: I was reminded how important it is to know the people you are working with. Get a sense of scale. Have fun. Bond. This part of relationship building can be overlooked on a professional level, but is so important to trust-building that takes the possibilities for impact so much further. "

Todd Bowden
Superintendent, Sarasota County Schools

"My big takeaway is that there is NO ONE PROGRAM that will address our national deficiency on grade level reading.  It is through the collective efforts of MULTIPLE PROGRAMS and entities working together in a coordinated way that we are seeing progress."

Cindy Cavallero Day
Consultant, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

"Never lose sight of the end user, our children."

Beth Duda
Director, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

"I was inspired that other communities have been able to establish a system for universal health and developmental screenings for children, and coordinating necessary services so each child has a “medical home”.

I loved Too Small To Fail’s idea of reaching parents at Laundromats.

I thought Bob Ross touched a chord when he encouraged us to act boldly and move beyond small pilot programs."

Diana Greene
Superintendent, Manatee County Schools

"For our students to read on grade level by third grade it will take a caring community, sharing of resources, volunteering talents and a vision to move it forward."

Debra Jacobs
President/CEO, The Patterson Foundation

"Being part of hundreds of Campaign communities brought affirmation of the value of engaging people, businesses, nonprofits, government, and media to create new realities for children and families."

Roxanne Joffe
CEO, MagnifyGood

"I have been working with the campaign both nationally and locally since the first AAC meeting in 2012. The Campaign's organic growth in size has matured and solidified with programs, technology and research while aggregating passionaries (to quote Debra). 

This tweet sums up my big take-away #1: Reality defies plan: focus on agility and aspiration, supported by process.

Take-away #2: It is, and always has been about hope, opportunity and aspiration for all children - back to the bottom line: ITS ABOUT THE KIDS!

Nelle Miller
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

"We are all committed to the same outcomes with regard to the children in our communities.  Without sounding trite, they are the future.  The amazing collaborations that have formed here are what will allow our children their greatest opportunity for success.  Learning, development, maturing is a multidimensional and miraculous process that requires a holistic, multi-generational, and grassroots effort to keep on track.  Every single child deserves the possibilities!  We have an amazing consortium of people, organizations, and agencies here that is succeeding, step by step, day by day, child by child in making the difference.  Our work is not close to finished, but we accept that there are major issues, and in response have decided to be forward thinking, innovative and to take action….now, we have to reach everybody!!"

Sharon Oakes
COO, Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County

"What I found most interesting is that schools were using the data collected on readiness rates as a community conversation starter – letting the community know that public schools could not take on this task alone, that in order to be successful with having children reading at grade level by third grade, good attendance, reading and health habits had to start in the 0-5 years and was a community-wide responsibility!"

Kirsten Russell
Initiative Consultant, Community Foundation of Sarasota County

  • Listen to the voices of the people you serve
  • Two-generation strategies are working -- Parent engagement is essential (When parent involvement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average)
  • We must put aside our egos if we truly care about making a difference for our children
  • Data make the stories true.  Stories make the data real.

"Some of the most successful communities across the country are integrating the two-generation approach to their GLR efforts and intentionally engaging parents in their child’s learning process. Together the stories and outcomes suggest this movement is heading in the right direction. We must continue to learn from each other; yet, recognize that the work in each community is as unique as the individual children and families it serves. Listen to the voices of those you serve. See them for who they are. Only then will each individual flourish and real change begin to take root."

William Russell
Director, Sarasota Housing Authority

"One takeaway for me was having a book rack filled with children's books that our voucher families, who are spread out all around Sarasota and Manatee counties and thus difficult to do events with, can access when they come into our office once a year to re certify. Houston housing authority gave me this idea on one of the panels. We plan to implement this at SHA."

Paul Sharff
CEO, Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County

"I enjoyed hearing what the rest of the nation was doing in their communities. I got some great ideas."

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