Photo: Parents and children from DeSoto County

DeSoto County: A Successful 2019, and a Keen Vision for GLR in 2020

Posted on January 06, 2020 by Ashley Coone, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Historically, DeSoto County’s third grade reading scores have hovered below 30%. In 2018, only 29% of third-grade students in the county were reading on grade level. However, 2019 has brought some positive changes and improvements. There’s a lot of action surrounding grade-level reading to celebrate in DeSoto.

The SCGLR DeSoto Coalition kicked off the new year by officially becoming a Campaign for Grade-Level Reading community in February. With United Way Suncoast serving as the backbone organization, the coalition is comprised of county leaders from the school district, the education foundation, the health department, the county government, the Early Learning Coalition, and The Patterson Foundation.

Although schools are held accountable for helping students achieve their potential, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has learned that schools cannot succeed alone. There’s not just one program, agency, curriculum, or initiative that can provide the solution for our children. A child’s success depends on the entire community working together to reach common aspirations.

The coalition has implemented several initiatives this year to increase reading proficiency by focusing on three key solution areas proven to impact a child’s reading ability: school-readiness, attendance, and summer learning. These initiatives include SCGLR events like the Attendance Awareness Poster Contest, Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge, Kindergarten Readiness Bags, Pop Up Laundry, Brain Matters screenings, and more.

For the second year, the School District of DeSoto County and The Patterson Foundation teamed up to provide Kindergarten Readiness Bags for all incoming kindergarten students in DeSoto. It was a community collaboration putting together more than 400 bags for all three elementary schools in DeSoto County. The bags were distributed during Kindergarten Round-Up events. Each Kindergarten Readiness Bag contained learning tools, including books, flashcards, and alphabet letters, along with a Kindergarten Readiness Parent Guide explaining how to use the tools to practice critical school-readiness skills.

A Mind in the Making cohort was held at Casa San Juan Bosco. Each Mind in the Making workshop provides participants the opportunity to reflect on their current practices and experiences and learn about proven research on best practices. The MITM program is a great way to improve communication. It also helps parents to become better role models equipped with essential life skills so they can help their children be ready to learn.

The Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge, hosted by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, is implemented through local summer camps to encourage children to read, reducing the “summer slide.”

Studies show that students can lose up to three months of reading progress during the summer, but reading just six books at the appropriate reading level during the summer can keep a struggling reader from regressing. In total, 8,709 children participated – a 60% increase over 2018. Of 8,709 kids, 6,876 read six or more books – a 40% increase over 2018. This year, DeSoto County increased the number of programs participating in the Summer Reading Challenge, and all DeSoto summer reading sites had more than two months of gains.

According to Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, all of the organizations in DeSoto County had tremendous results, which shows there is a need for programming and a great desire for children and providers to participate.”

While there’s still much work to be done, there are recognizable achievements. In May of 2019, DeSoto County School District’s third-grade students improved their FSA Reading Scores by 5 points! Currently, 34% of third-grade students in the county are reading on grade level.

The coalition has several other initiatives underway aimed at increasing grade-level reading, including local literacy centers and the DeSoto County School District’s Bookmobile. The first literacy center is housed at the Health Department’s WIC office, while the Bookmobile travels throughout the community equipped with books, technology, and certified teachers.

Part of the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a communitywide effort in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties to ensure that all children, especially children from asset-limited families, are proficient readers by the time they finish third grade — a key indicator in a student’s future academic success. The campaign involves collaborative efforts from foundations, nonprofit partners, government agencies, states, and communities nationwide, in addition to business leaders.

To learn more about SCGLR or to get involved, visit:

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