Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tackling Child Hunger One Power Pack at Time

On a national scale, 16.2 million kids in America struggle with hunger. In Washington State, more than 440,000 children live in homes with not enough food on the table. In Pierce County alone, 110,000 people suffer from hunger, with 39% percent of these individuals being children (Northwest Harvest, 2013).  Every day, both on a national scale and in our very own neighborhoods, children are affected by hunger and are not able to get the proper nutrition they need to focus to the best of their ability in school.

According to Hunger in our Schools, there are three common side effects seen in the classroom from children who suffer from hunger. An inability to concentrate, poor academic performance, and suffering through headaches and stomach aches are all unfortunate consequences displayed in children who have not been properly fed. Not only does hunger affects a child’s ability to focus, it also is more likely that these same children will “ behind in their academic development compared to other children which ultimately makes it more difficult for them to reach the same level of development as their fellow food secure peers” (Feeding America, 2014).While three out of four teachers (77%) agree that addressing childhood hunger must be a national priority, there are steps that can be taken now in order to help put an end to this child hunger.

Because United Way of Pierce County realizes that a school cafeteria may be the only way some children receive nutritious food in their day, they have decided to partner with St. Leo’s Food Connection to create a program called Power Pack. This project serves to help bridge the gap on weekends by providing children in the free and reduced lunch program with six kid-friendly meals comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables. Initially, the program was set to serve 470 children in the Tacoma School District, but through a collaborative effort, United Way has helped extend the program to 590 students, and now include the Clover Park School District as well.

Interested in getting involved? Learn how you can help make an impact through either holding a Power Pack food drive, volunteering to build or deliver packs, or even making a donation to purchase food. Together, we can fight hunger and make a difference in a child’s ability to learn in a classroom.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What I Didn't Know as the Parent of a Young Student

by: Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager for Early Grade Excellence

When I was the parent of a young student I didn't
know or understand the importance of attendance and that consistent attendance, starting in the early grades and continuing on through high school, really does matter.

I didn't know that...
My child could suffer academically if they missed 10%, or just 18 school days each year. Even in Kindergarten, First and Second grade this impacts their ability to learn.

I didn't know that...
·        It doesn't matter whether the absences are excused or unexcused. They all represent lost time in the classroom and lost opportunities to learn.

I didn't know that...
·        Attendance matters as early as Kindergarten. Studies show many children who miss too many days of Kindergarten and First Grade struggle academically in later years.

I didn't know that...
·        Preschool is a great time to start building the habit of good attendance. Studies show that poor attendance in preschool can predict absenteeism in later grades.

I didn't know that...
·        By Middle and High School, chronic absence is a leading sign that a student will drop out.

I didn't know that...
·        Too many absent students can affect the whole classroom, slowing down instruction and learning.

Now I want to make sure that parents of young children understand how important attendance is and how much it can affect their child’s future. Let’s all work together to share this message. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

We Have To Start Young

by: Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Success

Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life, when the brain is forming, represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and life.

Even at the start of Kindergarten, children from low-income families lag academically behind peers from higher-income families on key indicators because of a lack of access to early learning experiences.

We know that high-quality early learning opportunities are a sound investment that reduces the need for other services that may include remedial education and grade repetition. Improving access to these opportunities would “change the story” for our children.

Building a habit of regular attendance, starting with preschoolers, ensures children fully benefit from high quality learning experiences and gain skills that will serve them well in school. 

Summer is an important time for preparing children and their families to start school, ready to learn and ready to thrive. 

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.