Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why Third Grade Reading Ability Matters

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

“The fact is that the low-income fourth graders who cannot meet the proficient level in reading today are all too likely to become our nation’s lowest-income, least skilled, least productive, and most costly citizens of tomorrow. Simply put we are cementing educational failure and poverty into the next generation.”

This is a startling statement from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who continues to do extensive research on the WHY behind the importance of third grade reading ability. Clearly, we have to do something different – something in addition to what is happening at our schools, in our homes, and in our communities.  That is exactly what our Impact Team here at United Way, focused on Early Grade Excellence, is working toward. We know that children learn to read from kindergarten until third grade, and from third grade on they read to learn.

In collaboration with Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading, United Way of Pierce County is bringing youth literacy programs, youth recreational programs, the Tacoma Public Library, Child Care Aware, First 5 Fundamentals and Metro Parks to focus on identifying and addressing the barriers to children’s ability to read. Through this partnership we are creating an aligned, integrated, and coordinated pathway from birth through third grade for children so that they may be prepared for life and set up for success.
While we are fiercely committed to improving the education and lives of young children in Pierce County, this work begins and ends with parents and their children. Here’s how you can be a part of our education revolution:
  • Read and talk with your child daily - ensure they are cognitively ready for kindergarten.
  • Create opportunities for your child to build their reading skills - utilize volunteer reading tutors!
  • Develop a "culture" of school attendance - chronic absence, even among young children, is a clear predictor of drop out.
  • Encourage reading and learning games at home during the summer months - avoid the dreaded "summer slide" so your child does not lose their reading ability and fall behind before the new school year begins.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Get Books in Their Hands

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

The startling reality is that children from low-income households do not read because they do not have books in their homes or easy access to books in their communities.  For many parents this is difficult to imagine, we buy books for our children, take them to the library to check out books, and read to and with our children regularly.  Yet, there are a huge number of children in our communities who don’t have books in their homes at all. 

Research has shown that “simply providing children from low-income families with self-selected books for summer reading eliminated summer reading loss and spurred reading gains comparable to those experienced by middle class children.” (Allington, McGill-Franzen Camilli, et al., 2010)

This study indicates that by distributing self-selected books to children for summer reading improved reading achievement as much as attending summer school.  By providing the children with books that they want to read every summer the odds drastically improve the likelihood that these children will end the summer reading at grade level.  The reports indicate that the younger children benefit the most from the summer book distribution programs.  The children are excited to read these books because they have selected them. 

Summer reading programs most likely to stop the summer learning loss focus on some key aspects:
  • They focus on Kindergarten and First Graders. 
  • Encourage self- selection of books. 
  • Engage the children for at least three consecutive summers. 
  • Distribute 12-15 books per summer for children in Kindergarten through fourth Grade.
Together we could make this happen. We could begin leveling the playing field with books – the building blocks of the future.

Find out more about donating books through United Way's Launch Into Literacy program at

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Let’s Make Every Word Count….

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

Children from low-income families tend to lose more than two months of grade-level equivalency in reading during the summer, despite the fact that their peers from middle-class families make slight gains.  Yet, when the children in our community read and engage in literacy activities during the summer, they build critically important literacy skills and can avoid losing knowledge gained throughout the school year.

Summer provides an ideal time to expose children to books and other activities that interest them, help strengthen their literacy skills and avoid the risks of summer reading loss. Summer literacy activities should include even the youngest learners. Families can promote learning through fun activities, like reading books together, going to the library and local museums and cultural events, or even reading street signs and billboards. Reading at home can have a big impact on reducing summer learning loss when paired with the right supports, including access to a variety of books that match the children’s interests and reading level, and having adults ask questions about the book that was read to help the child remember different aspects. 

Have a reading picnic with your child. Take a blanket, a couple of books your child enjoys and a special treat (sliced apples for instance) out to your yard or to a local park. Spread the blanket out and sit down with your child on the blanket.  Select one of the books to read. Talk about the book, look at the picture on the cover and talk about what you think the story might be about based on the picture you see. Get comfortable and begin reading with or to your child.  Stop frequently to ask them what they think about the story so far, or what they think might happen next. When you finish the book ask some questions about the story to help the child remember what you just read together.  Then ask them if the book matched the picture on the cover or what they thought the book would be about.  Depending on the age of the child they may want to read it again. Have fun with the book, perhaps the child can act out a portion of the story.  Helping your child(ren) enjoy and have fun with reading is a gift that will support their growth and development in a lasting way. Be intentional as you integrate daily reading and talking with your child into summer experiences to create a language-rich environment for children throughout our communities.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What is the Summer Slide?

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

When you hear these words what do you think of?  Your mind probably slips right over to the slide in the local swimming pool or at the local park or perhaps the slide at the playground at your child’s elementary school.  Unfortunately, that’s not what we are referring to. The “Summer Slide” we are referring to is what happens when kids stop learning over the summer, which leads to a significant loss in reading and math skills. And what we see is that while all children can be impacted, the highest impact is on the children from low-income households who have little or no access to books or summer learning programs. 

Imagine two students. Both enter the summer break with nine months of learning under their belts. While one has books at home, makes trips to the library and participates in summer programs, the other does not. There are no books at home and no resources to get them to the library or pay for summer programs. The child who reads during the summer and goes to summer programs is more likely to retain what they've learned during the school year, and even make gains over the summer months. Meanwhile, the child who doesn't have access to books or other learning opportunities can lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer.

What can we do?

The most important thing is to make sure that kids are reading. Many low-income families don’t have books at home. Through United Way of Pierce County’s Launch Into Literacy program, we are collecting books for children who don’t have any. A gift of just $3 can provide a book for a child.

For children that have access to books, start by making sure the books are at their reading level and ask them questions about what they are reading.  To make sure the book is at an appropriate level  for your child use the five finger rule. Have the child read 100 words from a book and raise one finger for each word that is too difficult to figure out. If the child has more than five fingers up, the book is probably too hard for them.  You want the reading to be challenging but not frustrating for your child.

The next thing is to talk with your child about what they are reading and ask questions about the story; this helps them develop their comprehension or understanding of what they are reading and is one of the most powerful things to help improve the child’s reading ability.

Another great tool for parents is to do a family project. This might be having a “family store” where kids buy and sell things in the family with some type of currency exchange (monopoly money can be used, or pennies, or create your own money). This creates hands-on learning opportunities at home. 

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to learn with your child. You don’t have to be an expert at anything, simply show your child that you are interested and want to learn and then push forward to learn things with them.  Go to the library together, pick out books and let your child see you reading also. When you decide to work together to learn something be excited about both of your progress and find fun ways to celebrate and share what you have learned.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Truth About Water Fluoridation

by Timm Dowling, Resource Development Executive

When you think of reasons kids miss school, what do you think of?

Influenza? Transportation? Substance abuse? Apathy?
What about dental health?
That’s right; tooth decay is a leading cause of absenteeism. Children with dental disease miss more school days than other children, disrupting their educational and social experiences. This leads to developmental delays, increasing the educational gap that we are fighting so hard to bridge. If children don’t show up for school regularly, they miss out on fundamental reading and math skills and the chance to build a habit of good attendance that will carry them into college and careers. Children who start behind often stay behind, continuing the cycle of poverty.
Those cheesy videos about fighting plaque weren’t just a marketing ploy. Cavities are detrimental to our overall health, especially for children. The mouth is the portal for nutrients to our bodies and without a healthy mouth; you won’t have a healthy body. Not only is it virtually impossible to eat when you have poor oral hygiene (tooth decay, gum disease, oral sores, etc.) but it distracts from all other aspects of your life. When a young child’s front teeth are damaged or missing, they often can’t form words correctly, resulting in speech issues, and tend to embrace an anti-social demeanor.
According to the Washington Dental Service Foundation, nearly 40 percent of children start kindergarten with tooth decay; almost 15 percent have rampant decay (seven or more decayed/filled teeth). Nearly six out of 10 third grade children have tooth decay in permanent teeth.
So how do we ensure most of us can have a healthy smile and optimal oral health? One proven way that has been used safely in the United States for nearly 70 years is community water fluoridation. Pierce County residents have been safely enjoying its use since the late 1950s, though not everyone is receiving it.
“Nearly 65 percent of Washington State residents improve their dental health, and overall health, by drinking fluoridated water. However, in Pierce County that number is less than half. There is obviously room for improvement. For those who want to improve the health of Pierce County residents, community water fluoridation is of proven value,” says Laura Smith, President and CEO of the Washington Dental Service Foundation.
Water Fluoridation is one of the safest and most cost efficient community health initiatives in the country. It is one of the most thoroughly studied subjects, and the substantial scientific evidence shows it is safe and effective.
In addition to the health benefits, water fluoridation is extremely cost effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention commissioned a study which found that every $1 invested in fluoridation saves $38 by reducing the need for dental fillings, crowns, or other treatments. This holds true for communities of over 20,000 people, but even smaller towns often find the savings a great value.
Community anxiety around water fluoridation stems from misinformation. This is similar to the issue of vaccinations. The public simply isn’t properly informed about the matter and it’s much easier to digest an emotional comment on Facebook than several pages of a scientific study. But the facts are out there and those who are properly educated on the matter understand the importance and benefit of community water fluoridation.
To connect with low cost dental resources, give our South Sound 211 office a call or find more referral information here:

Friday, May 23, 2014

2014 Community Celebration: A Recap

by Mike Leonard, Campaign Relationship Manager

More than 400 friends and supporters of United Way of Pierce County attended the 2014 Community Celebrations on May 19th in beautiful downtown Tacoma. The Tacoma Convention Center was the perfect venue for this annual event, radiating the reception area with the glowing afternoon sun.

Outgoing Campaign Chair, Deb Young, HR Director from the City of Lakewood, welcomed guests and thanked the sponsors for making the evening possible.  With the financial support of The Boeing Company, Union Bank and Staging Techniques, 100 percent of the events costs were covered.

Young introduced new United Way of Pierce County President/CEO, Dona Ponepinto, who shared her story about United Way being deeply rooted in her family, from her dad’s annual pledge to her mom’s volunteer work, and finally her own 27 year career with United Way. Ponepinto shared her passion for United Way, and highlights of the United Way strategic plan. She thanked the corporate partners and employee donors, and closed with the quote, “Living United, we don’t do any of the work alone.”

Wayne Larkin, President and CEO of True Blue, spoke on behalf of 2013 Campaign Chair, Steve Cooper. Larkin spoke of the success of several corporate campaigns in 2013, and highlighted some of the campaign’s successes.  He explained how dollars raised through the company campaign stabilize families in Pierce County by connecting those in need with vital resources, helping families get out of crisis situations. Some of the successful campaigns that were highlighted include Korum Automotive Group, Coordinated Care, GEO Engineers, Nordstrom, Franciscan Health Care and TrueBlue. Larkin also had the pleasure of recognizing the City of Tacoma as the 2013 Campaign of the Year.

Dianna Kielian, Senior VP of Mission for Franciscan Health System, and incoming campaign chair for UWPC told a touching story about her childhood and how United Way helped her family during a time of crisis. “Not enough” her Dad would say as they drove by the Detroit Buick plant United Way Thermometer. You see, her dad had recently been laid off from the Buick Company, but was still committed to making his annual donation to United Way. He asked each of his children to dig through their piggy banks several times to help with the family’s United Way pledge knowing that United Way was there to support the family during that difficult 5 month period of unemployment. The gift of giving continues with Dianna to this day.

New United Way Board Chair Jamey McCormick spoke from the heart about how life has changed since the birth of his second daughter just 4 months ago. He spoke about starting points, and how all children starting at the same point in life, and how they grow is determined by family support. McCormick spoke about the importance of talking to children. He said that the success of his daughter starts at day one, and that every time he talks to her, he is helping her develop. He spoke of United Way’s efforts to focus on early learning, early grade excellence and strengthening families. McCormick also spoke about the need to break down barriers that families and children face every day in our community, and empower them to succeed.

Dona Ponepinto closed the celebration and spoke of how our partnerships with First 5 Fundamentals, Tacoma Children’s Museum, Mary Bridge, Lindquist Dental and Pierce County Libraries is shaping the way we care for and prepare our youngest citizens for school and life. Ponepinto said the she believes that investing in children will change their story to one of accomplishments and not challenges. She spoke of the barriers that stand in the way of families and children, and how we can work together as a community to find solutions to those barriers; “We can create lasting change by removing barriers so that families can be empowered to make lasting change.” Ponepinto closed with quote from one of her favorite children’s books, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me. Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”