Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Youth Volunteers Set Out to ‘Make a Difference’

by Nicole Milbradt, Sr. Marketing Associate

Volunteering is a powerful and tangible way to make a difference, no matter what your age. More than 100 youth volunteers did just that by participating in this year’s Make a Difference Day through United Way of Pierce County‘s Youth United program. Saturday, October 26th the teens served at four sites throughout Pierce County for a combined total of nearly 400 hours, a value of over $8,800 using industry standards! 

Students from Ferrucci Junior High, Mt. Tahoma High School, Annie Wright, Fife High School and several other schools signed up for projects at L’Arche Farms, Gateways for Youth and Family, Edgewood FISH Food Bank, and St. Leo’s Food Connection.  The volunteers helped with everything from planting plants, cleaning up greenhouses, packing Power Packs and passing out food at the food bank. 

For more than 20 years, USA WEEKEND Magazine and Points of Light have joined together to sponsor Make a Difference Day, the largest national day of community service. Millions of volunteers around the world unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others.

Youth United is a youth program of United Way of Pierce County intended for High School and Junior High students in Pierce County. Youth United offers a variety of ways to connect youth with meaningful volunteer opportunities, including Make a Difference Day.

View photos from Youth United's Make a Difference Day activities.

Learn more about Youth United by visiting www.uwpc.org/youthunited.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Creating a Culture of Attendance

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

Research shows that kindergartners who miss 10 percent of school, or just 18 days have lower academic performance when they reach first grade. When chronic absence becomes the norm, the loss in academic performance continues to grow each year, leaving the child further and further behind their peers who are regularly attending school.  
Across the nation, 11 percent of students kindergarten through grade 12 are chronically absent, but in Tacoma one in four kids K-3 missed 10 percent or more days in the 2012-2013 school year. Alarmingly, 28 percent of our kindergartners missed 18 or more days of school.  Unfortunately the statistics don’t improve greatly for first, second and third graders. Their numbers indicate that 24 percent of students in each of these grades missed 18 or more days annually. Equally alarming is that nearly half of the Tacoma School District’s students between kindergarten and third grade missed 10 days or more in 2012-2013.

Many parents and community members don’t recognize that good attendance means providing our children with more and better opportunities to learn. There is a lack of understanding of the extent to which absences, even when excused, negatively impacts learning. Additionally, many people presume that attendance only matters when the child is in middle school or high school. We must deliver a clear compelling message, backed by research, that every day missed is a day of instruction missed, a day of classroom interaction with students and teachers that can’t be recovered. Through this message, we must focus on creating a culture of attendance and personalize the school environment to address the specific needs of each child.

The facts include:

  • Students have to be present and engaged in order to learn.
  • Early chronic absence can leave children unable to read well by the end of third grade.
  • Early chronic absence sets a pattern for poor attendance, academic failure and potential drop out.
  • During the early elementary years, children are gaining basic social and academic skills critical to ongoing academic success.
  • Among low-income children, chronic absence in kindergarten predicts the lowest levels of educational achievement at the end of fifth grade, exacerbating the achievement gap.  
A recent Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department survey indicates that one of the key drivers of missed days in Tacoma is asthma, which can be attributed in part to poor air quality. The air quality is typically good in the Puget Sound region, where Tacoma is centered, for most of the year. However, in the fall and winter months, there are very high levels of fine particle pollution in the air in Tacoma and most of Pierce County. The biggest source of our wintertime pollution is wood smoke which comes from heating units and fireplaces in some of the poorest households in the region. Pollution levels from wood smoke are so high that they violate the U.S. Clean Air Act and have resulted in our region being designated as a nonattainment area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Though there are efforts to respond to the EPA mandate that we clean up our air by 2019, kids continue to suffer.

Our strategies for improving attendance fall into these areas:  

·    building awareness of the importance of attendance

·    building a culture of respect and partnership with families

·    developing and implementing strategies for early intervention

·    recognizing and rewarding good attendance and improved attendance

·    consistently tracking and monitoring of attendance and the reasons for the absence or tardy

Now with the initiation of the Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading, our city is taking another giant step toward assuring that all of our children, especially those in the most need, are assured of success in their homes, in their schools and in society. This coalition of partners that has come together to make this Campaign a reality is larger and more reflective of our city than any that has come before it. The Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading focuses on three specific areas: school readiness, school attendance and summer learning loss. The coalition has developed strategies and outcomes around each of these areas and has garnered agreements to track data and gather qualitative information in order to align and assess our work. We are excited about the opportunities this collaboration provides, and see it as an opportunity to significantly impact the success of our students. As we go forward, we will utilize our learning to create nimble, necessary responses to the issues that arise for our students. Additionally, we will take what we have learned into our future plans to move forward toward engaging other Pierce County School Districts in this work.
For more information about the Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading, please review our Community Solutions Action Plan that has been submitted to the Campaign For Grade Level Reading.