Community Foundation of Sarasota County president and CEO Roxie Jerde served as a presenter during a session on the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at the recent Florida Philanthropic Network Winter Summit in Orlando. Jerde discussed the work the Community Foundation is leading along with community partners to ensure all Sarasota County students read at the third-grade level by the end of third grade, and why this work is needed.
In attendance at the session were members of other regional foundations and organizations concerned with literacy. Attendees heard from Ralph Smith, senior vice president for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who is leading the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading effort. Smith reported on headlines and highlights of the Campaign, including sobering statistics on the devastating impact not reading at grade level can have on a student’s future.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is committed to tackling a national crisis: a full two-thirds of U.S. students, and four-fifths of children from low-income families, fail to become proficient readers by the end of third grade. Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a milestone on a child’s path to success because it marks the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Approximately 3 out of 4 students who have not mastered reading by that time are more likely to struggle in school and fail to graduate from high school.
Introducing Smith and facilitating the session was Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation. Also presenting at the session was Dr. Brittany Birken, the CEO of the Florida Children’s Council and the statewide coordinator for the 10 Campaign for Grade Level Reading communities in Florida.
Jerde reported on current reading levels in Sarasota County: the results of last year's FCAT showed nearly 30 percent of all third graders (906 of 3,123) are not reading at grade level. Of the 906 not reading at grade level, 663 - or 73 percent - are on free or reduced lunch. This confirms the link between poverty and educational success.
Those sobering statistics provided the impetus for the Community Foundation to become involved with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The Community Foundation was wrapping up a five-year, $3.4 million literacy initiative called Literacy Empowers All Families, which focused literacy efforts on a wider age range, from kindergarten through eighth grade. As we build on the success of LEAF, and with sobering statistics pointing to third grade as a crucial milestone for future success, the Community Foundation felt the narrower (pre-K through third grade) age range would be a natural next step.
Sarasota County is now one of 150+ communities nationwide and 10 in the State of Florida to be accepted as a Campaign for Grade-Level Reading community.
The Community Foundation and numerous community partners that also work in the literacy arena will be working primarily to address three underlying challenges that can keep young children, especially those from low-income families, from learning to read well: school readiness — too many children are entering kindergarten already behind; school attendance — too many young children are missing too many days of school; and summer learning loss — too many children are losing ground academically over the summer.
"While Sarasota County’s third grade reading performance is above the state average of 57 percent, this performance level is a crisis for students who are already behind at this point in their education and for a community with aspirations for a robust education for all students," said Jerde. "This situation serves as a call to action and requires an intentional set of strategies directed toward the goal of increased literacy for Sarasota County students. With a top-five ranked school district out of 67 in Florida, Sarasota County has an opportunity to leverage our excellence to ensure all 3rd grade students are reading at grade level.”
For more information or to learn how you can become involved in this initiative, call Colleen McGue, Initiative Consultant for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at the Community Foundation, at (941) 556-7158.
(From l-r) Roxie Jerde, President and CEO of Community Foundation of Sarasota County, with Ralph Smith, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and Senior VP at the Annie E. Casey Foundation