SPRINGFIELD – Business and community leaders here recently got some good news about the citywide campaign to boost reading proficiency by the end of third grade. At a luncheon at the Basketball Hall of Fame, Jack Dill, president of Colebrook Realty Services, announced that the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success has raised almost $1 million of its $1.5 million goal for the campaign. And Maura Geary, director of literacy at the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, shared encouraging results of several community-based initiatives of the city’s Read! campaign. (See “Pushing Reading Proficiency.”)
Read! – an initiative spearheaded by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation — has set an ambitious goal of having 80% of Springfield children reading proficiently by 2016. Currently, 40% of the city’s third graders read proficiently, according to 2011 MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) results, up from 38% in 2010 and 36% in 2009.
Sally Fuller, project director for the Davis Foundation, kicked off the gathering by introducing Ralph Smith, managing director of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “I’ve been talking about Springfield all around the country,” Smith said. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative of more than 80 foundations and other partners committed to improving third grade reading proficiency, a key educational predictor of a child’s chances of graduating from high school.
Research says that 74% of children who struggle with reading in third grade will continue to struggle in school, substantially reducing the likelihood that they will finish high school. Who, Smith asked, are the one-quarter of struggling readers who will catch up?
“The 26% figure. Those children are your children and mine. They’re the middle class kids,” Smith said. “In the 74% figure there is a catastrophe. Almost all the students who don’t catch up are low-income kids…. That is a catastrophe for those kids, their families, their community and the nation….
“We can disrupt intergenerational poverty if we make sure kids finish high school, make sure they get and keep a job, and delay pregnancy until they are 24 and married. The most important hurdle is high school graduation,” he added. “This is not the work that can be done by schools alone…. We’ve got to help them succeed. One of the ways we do that is mobilizing communities like you are doing in Springfield.”
One of those ways is the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative, which aims to prevent the summer learning loss that too often leaves children from low-income families falling farther and farther behind in school. The summer program, which focused on nature, included an emphasis on building children’s background knowledge, a key component in improving reading comprehension skills.
“I don’t stand up pretending that I or Hasbro is doing enough,” George Burtch, vice president of global integration at Hasbro Games, told those gathered at the recent luncheon. “Every business person in this room: Leave here as an advocate for early childhood education. Leave here saying you, too, believe we need to start prenatally. Make sure the children don’t start behind the 8-ball.”
According to an executive summary of last summer’s program, 68% of children improved or maintained their reading scores. “The children had a fantastic summer,” said Dave Ketchum, a second grade teacher at the William N. DeBarry School who worked in the Hasbro program. “It didn’t end with summer. I’m still seeing the growth.”
The business and community leaders also heard about Talk/Read/Succeed, an innovative literacy and family engagement project for young children and families in the John L. Sullivan and John I. Robinson Gardens public housing developments, which are served by the Edward P. Boland and Hiram L. Dorman Schools. The goal of Talk/Read/Succeed is to ensure that children in the two developments become proficient readers by the end of third grade. “You’re so busy running around to chase the dollar, you forget about the quality time with the children,” Tanisha Harris, a mother who lives in Robinson Gardens, told the luncheon. “I have so many different parts of this program that I participate in.”
Among those “many different parts” is the Hasbro summer initiative, which served Talk/Read/Succeed children in its Boland and Dorman programs. “Our summer used to consist of Six Flags tickets,” Harris said. She initially worried that her daughter wouldn’t want to attend an educational summer program, but, she said, “my daughter was excited to go every day.”
Tom O’Brien, principal of the Boland School, told the gathering that Talk/Read/Succeed, which also includes home visiting and parent education, has helped the school look outside its walls.
“We look at what we have done in schools. Everything we have done has been reactive…. We needed to stop being reactive and become proactive,” O’Brien said. “Schools can only do so much. We needed to go outside the school. We needed to reach out and not just educate the students but educate the community.”
Also speaking were Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children, and Trellis Stepter, diversity fellow at the Davis Foundation.