OPINION

Impacting grade-level reading: Attendance Awareness Month

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Sara Wilson, UWSC Marketing Director

Last week, we highlighted how important Grade-Level Reading is to the future of our students as well as our community. Over the next three weeks, this column will focus on what United Way of Story County (UWSC) is doing to increase proficiency in reading at grade level.

The first step to enhance this part of UWSC’s education portfolio was to convene community partners to help work on the Grade-Level Reading (GLR) campaign.

Because of our role in facilitating the GLR campaign, UWSC was invited to apply to host an AmeriCorps VISTA member sponsored by United Way Worldwide, in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). UWSC was lucky enough to receive two members for a year, who began their service in February 2014. The VISTAs, Judy Dahlke and Leslie Van Dyke, are working with other UWSC staff and Ames Reads to impact student success, particularly in the areas of attendance, school readiness and out-of-school learning.

Attendance has been identified as a community need. During the 2012-13 school year, the Ames Community School District reported that 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade missed 10 or more days each year. Therefore, UWSC is working with the school district to ensure chronic absence, defined as missing 10% or more days of school, for any reason, is reduced. Specifically, an awareness campaign targeted to students and parents is being executed.

Mayor of the City of Ames Ann Campbell began the August 26, 2014, City Council meeting proclaiming September as Attendance Awareness Month. The proclamation was the first event in a month-long partnership with UWSC and Ames School District to raise awareness and invite everyone in the community to be part of the solution.

The awareness campaign uses the following hashtag on social media: #AmesAims2BNSchool. Many messages and articles are being circulated in the school district as well as in the community. Additionally, a large banner was placed in every school in Ames, asking students and parents to sign and pledge their commitment to being in school.

Why is reducing chronic absence so important? Being absent more than 10% of school puts students at risk to struggle academically. For example, starting as early as kindergarten, chronic absence can leave a third-grader unable to read proficiently, a sixth-grader struggling with coursework and a high school student off-track for graduation.

To help support school attendance, join in the awareness campaign on social media, engage with schools and families in your neighborhood and support organizations that help these efforts. If you’re a parent, execute a consistent daily routine. Arrange to take vacations when school is not in session, talk about the importance of school and be positive about keeping up with assignments.

In addition to education, UWSC also focuses on income and health – the three building blocks for a good quality of life. We know we can’t do it alone, so we recruit people and organizations who bring passion, expertise and resources to make positive change. We invite you to be a part of the change. You can give, you can advocate and you can volunteer. That’s what it means to LIVE UNITED.

United Way of Story County is a strategic leader in building county-wide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support, and evaluates effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community.