OPINION

Impacting Grade-Level Reading: School Readiness

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Sara Wilson, UWSC Marketing Director

Earlier this month, we highlighted how important Grade-Level Reading is to the future of our students as well as our community. In subsequent weeks, this column is focusing on what United Way of Story County (UWSC) is doing to increase proficiency in reading at grade level.

Last week, we told you the first step was for UWSC to convene community partners to work on the Grade-Level Reading (GLR) campaign. Because of our role in facilitating the GLR campaign, we were able to secure two AmeriCorps VISTA members for a year to work on such initiatives as attendance, which we highlighted last week, school readiness and out-of-school learning.

School readiness has been identified as a community need. One in four incoming kindergarteners in Ames was not proficient on the Phonological Awareness Test (PAT) subtest that is associated with pre-reading skills and helps teachers plan instruction. Therefore, UWSC is working with community partners to achieve the goal that more than 80% of children entering kindergarten will demonstrate a proficient level of early literacy skills as measured by the PAT or another valid and reliable assessment.

To work towards accomplishing that goal, UWSC VISTAs are working with many community partners regarding school readiness. First, through Raising Readers in Story County’s Reach Out and Read program, all children in Story County receive an age-appropriate book from their doctor at each well-child check-up from age two months to five years. All primary care providers in the county participate and encourage parents to read aloud daily at home. Approximately 9,000 children receive new books annually.

Next, Thrive by Five, a reading and school readiness program for families with children from birth to age five, is being expanded. Thrive by Five offers adult education to help families prepare their children for school and reading. It offers information about school expectations, children’s book suggestions and fun activities to enjoy at home. The expansion will work to make transitions from early learning to school easier by increasing common understandings among preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, families and the community.

Other initiatives to getting kids school ready are also being implemented with UWSC, Raising Readers and other community partners.

Why is it important for our children to be ready for school in terms of literacy? Studies show that children who live in print-rich environments and who are read to during the first years of life are much more likely to learn to read on schedule. Nationwide, more than 60% of low-income families have no age-appropriate books in their homes. Furthermore, children from low-income families are exposed to 30 million less words than children from families on welfare. Luckily, programs like Reach out and Reach provide books in 100% of homes in Story County so our children can have a better chance of becoming strong readers.

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.