by Maureen Faccia, Executive Vice President
Last week, I had an opportunity to speak about work we are facilitating that could Change the Story for young students in Tacoma.
Almost 300 people convened at the STAR Center in Tacoma for Graduate Tacoma!, a celebration of the progress that has been made to bolster student success and workforce readiness for Tacoma. Graduate Tacoma! (www.graduatetacoma.org) is a community-wide effort seeking to improve high school and post-secondary graduation rates by 50 percent by the year 2020.
United Way believes the best investment we can make today to influence high school graduation rates, and ultimately the workforce and economic conditions of our community later is to invest early in a child’s life. Truly, how can we expect a child who isn’t ready for school by Kindergarten or doesn’t have family stability or access to opportunities to continue learning outside of school time beat the odds, catch up and then advance to graduation? Our aim is to change the story for young children co-creating strategies with community partners and school districts. We are making investments to ensure kids are ready for kindergarten, that they are learning to read in the early grades so they can read to learnas they progress further in school, and -probably most importantly for this age group– we want to ensure their families have the necessary supportsto enable their child to be successful in school.
Last spring, United Way convened dozens of community partners, principals and other leaders within the Tacoma School District. Just 48 percent of Tacoma kindergarteners were ready for the 2012 school year, according to the state’s WA-Kids (Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills) and less than two-thirds of third graders could read according to the State’s Reading Proficiency exam. Our team is working to develop a plan to ensure many more kids are ready for kindergarten and ensure kids can read at grade level by the end of third grade, where the importance of reading shifts to reading to learn subjects like math, geography, and science.
Our work for 2014 seeks to build connections among providers so that more families can easily find and access programs in the community to help their children be prepared for school. We also hope to require elevating important messages like “Love.Talk.Play.,” that Attendance Matters and the importance of reading with your young child.
Our group identified opportunities to expand quality programs that will further engage families of pre-school age children to become their child’s first and most important teacher with a Spanish-language Play to Learn or the Reach Out and Read program that provides books and advice to parents within the clinical setting of a pediatrician’s office. For more on this effort, see the full report at (insert link to the report).
For the youngest of school age children, it is often not their choice about whether or not they will be in school. In fact, many families do not realize that missing one or two days of school per month even in Kindergarten can be correlated to gaps in grade level reading by the end of third grade. Influencing what are often cultural norms around attendance requires the support of the entire community and we need your help. We are collaborating with media partners like KBTC PBS-Kids to help reinforce messages that being in school every day matters which we hope will lead to healthy attendance habits and we are hoping to engage families directly to hear about what barriers they are experience keeping their kids in school.
Underscoring all of this is the importance of inviting parents to participate in the conversation. While many of you are caring community partners, some are also parents. We want you to know you are invited to join in the conversation and help us prepare our kids for a lifetime love of learning.