Photo: Students from Alta Vista's Summer Learning Academy enjoying storytime with big smiles and gasping mouths

Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Gets National Recognition

Posted on July 09, 2019 by Anna Bryson, Herald-Tribune Media Group

The child literacy effort was recognized as a “Pacesetter,” one of only 32 out of 390 participating communities

For the third year in a row, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading was recognized as a national leader in advancing child literacy.

The “Pacesetter” honor, awarded by the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR), was given to 32 of the more than 390 communities that participate in the campaign.

“Recognition as a Pacesetter affirms the vital work taking place daily in our community to help our children — especially those from low-income families — overcome the barriers to attaining one of the most vital skills for their continued success in the classroom and beyond,” said Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for The Patterson Foundation.

The goal of the campaign is to boost the percentage of children reading on grade level by the end of third grade — a key metric for predicting future academic and life success. Nationally only about 30% of students read proficiently by that point, and in low-income families, only about 20% are reading on grade level.

The Suncoast Campaign works in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, and Charlotte counties, and is the only four-county effort in the national grade-level reading network that was honored as a “Pacesetter.” It is also one of only six communities that received the honor for all three of CGLR’s Pacesetter criteria.

″(It’s) a testimony to the power of engaging families, volunteers, businesses, nonprofits, the government, and media,” Duda said.

The local campaign is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, and communities to improve child literacy by focusing on early learning, daily school attendance, and summer reading programs, with lead partners The Patterson Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, United Way Suncoast, and United Way of Charlotte County. Among many initiatives, it has led the Suncoast Summer Book Challenge, an annual reading program staged at summer programs throughout the area where children receive bracelets for reading books, and Mind in the Making, a program that trains parents and caregivers about the science of child learning.

″(The Suncoast Campaign) is special because of the way the partnerships have come together,” said Bronwyn Beightol, Manatee area president of United Way Suncoast. “When we first started, it was one of the only major things the Sarasota and Manatee communities have really deeply partnered on, and now with Charlotte and DeSoto counties as well, that’s incredible. It’s just bringing people together.”

Numbers show that the community is involved with the campaign.

The Attendance Awareness Poster Contest, which aims to promote good attendance habits, had close to 50,000 participants last year, according to Duda. Over 900 people participated in The Power of Presence book circles, which aim to engage parents with their children and help strengthen their relationships. Those numbers show the strength in cross-sector collaborations, Duda said.

“Recognizing Pacesetters is our way of applauding and thanking the civic leaders, organizations, and agencies that have joined forces to build brighter futures for children in their communities,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of CGLR. “We are learning with them and from them what it takes to move the needle and close the gap. Mobilized communities — like these Pacesetters — are essential to ensuring school success.”

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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