Photo: Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Grade-Level Reading Campaign Celebrates Success in Raising Reading Proficiency

Posted on October 19, 2019 by Anna Bryson, Herald-Tribune Media Group
The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s annual breakfast brought together 300 people working on childhood literacy from across four counties.

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, now in its fifth year, celebrated its success in raising third-grade reading proficiency — an important predictor of school success and high school graduation.

“This is a long term project,” said Beth Duda, executive director of the Suncoast Campaign. “If it was easily fixed, we would have fixed it long ago.”

The Community Update Breakfast at Michael’s on East in Sarasota brought together almost 300 representatives, partners, and participants in the campaign from Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, all focused on improving child literacy rates in the four counties.

“Some of our asset-limited children can be up to two years behind in reading skills by the end of fifth grade,” Duda said. “And that’s something that together we can make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The campaign’s five main strategies are to reduce chronic absenteeism, improve summer education and early learning programs, engage parents, and provide health services to low-income families.

Since 2017, State FSA third grade reading scores in all four counties involved in the Suncoast Campaign have risen — by 3 percentage points in Charlotte and DeSoto counties and 1 percentage point in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.

“This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon,” said Kirsten Russell, the director of community investment for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. “And the good news is that participation is growing.”

Leaders from each county stressed the dire consequences for children who cannot read on grade level by the end of third grade — a metric that researchers often focus on because of how reliably it indicates future success.

The Suncoast campaign is structured differently than many of the more than 400 communities participating across the United States. It takes a regional approach, working as a regional accelerator with different lead partners in each county.

Speakers stressed that though progress is slow, the more than 300 people in attendance are united by the belief that they can make things better for children.

“We act on that belief by partnering with nonprofits, government, media, and community,” said Bronwyn Beightol, Manatee area president of United Way Suncoast. “We can solve challenges no one can solve alone.”

Speakers highlighted successes across the scope of initiatives.
  • Summer learning: According to test results released by the Sarasota County School District, the 541 students who attended at least half of the district’s Summer Learning Academies increased their reading test scores when they returned to school in the fall.

  • Parent engagement: Since 2013, more than 1,000 people have taken part in Mind in the Making training, which teaches parents and caregivers how to help children improve vital executive function skills.
  • Absenteeism: In August, the Suncoast Campaign has partnered with Attendance Works, a national organization that aims to help schools improve attendance, to create a plan to reduce chronic absenteeism in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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