United to Improve Literacy Proficiency

Over 3.6 million students finished third grade in the U.S. last year. Roughly 1.3 million were reading proficiently. 37 percent. That is how many 3rd graders were reading at or above grade-level according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This is an incredibly important statistic because 3rd grade reading proficiency is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) is addressing this alarming number and moving the needle forward in literacy proficiency across the nation. 
United Way of Story County (UWSC) has been a part of the CGLR for over six years, as it aligns with one of our three major pillars, education for all. Story County Reads, a community collaboration led by Malai Amfahr from UWSC, has carried the torch for Story County as a pacesetter of the CGLR. At the end of July, National Grade-Level Reading Week was celebrated with a conference in Philadelphia. A group of Story County Reads members were able to attend the intensive, four-day meeting where knowledge and ideas were shared amongst key stakeholders in the childhood literacy sector. 
Packed full with engaging speakers and expert panels, one topic seemed to take the spotlight throughout the week. ACE’s, Adverse Childhood Experiences, have been making headlines as they relate to childhood development and, more specifically, early literacy. The CGLR is invested in taking a closer look at the root of proficiency issues and finding out where they are stemming from before it’s too late. As Dr. Nadine Burke Harris spoke at the conference, “Our children are not broken.” They are simply a reflection of their past. ACE’s that are unwelcomingly present in childhood effect attention span, growth, and development, and create barriers to a successful future.
“Our community is becoming more and more aware that our children are not broken and we need to find better solutions as a community. One goal of Story County Reads is to bring different sectors together and start changing systems of support for families.” says Amfahr.
As a community convener, UWSC and Story County Reads is in a unique position. We have the ability to engage multiple partners in our community and leverage those organization’s power to bring about solutions. We can rally together around evidence-based solutions and learn how to better support the education of our youth. By looking outside of the school setting and engaging everyone from healthcare professionals to parents in this important conversation, success will happen. If we know that mental, emotional, and physical health is playing a large part in lowering literacy outcomes, let’s rewrite the game plan to include support that would incorporate all of those areas.
“Health screens are available to test for these adverse experiences in children, and if we can get caretakers and health providers to be a part of this conversation, they can be a huge part of the solution.” Amfahr states, “Our point of focus after the CGRL conference is that early intervention is possible and we can all work to reverse the trend of lower reading proficiencies for children in our community, no matter our industry.
In Story County 85.9% of 3rd graders are proficient readers. Although it’s not as alarming as the national 37%, 15% of our children are still struggling. At United Way, we lead the fight for education for EVERY person in our community. We are fighting for the 15%. Because we all win when a child succeeds in school.
Looking forward, Story County Reads is embracing expansion. The more community members that we can bring to the table, the more encompassing our services and solutions can be.  The ultimate goal is to have a wide variety of organizations involved in Story County Reads. Childhood literacy may not sound like a dire problem for Story County. However, with it being the core of childhood success, it is a major issue. We need everyone to unite together for change. Together, we can keep pushing the needle forward to increase the human potential in our community. Because in order to live better, we must LIVE UNITED.