by Randall Gee

More than 100 community leaders and educators gathered at the Haggin Museum to discuss the problem and set goals for reversing our community’s poor literacy rates.

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Community Engagement

BOG Community Council Launches Reading by Third campaign

Sep 20, 2012

As part of a continuing conversation about elevating academic achievement in the Valley, University of the Pacific and community leaders gathered Sept. 17 to discuss solutions to startlingly low literacy rates among children in San Joaquin County.

The Beyond Our Gates Community Council on Monday launched its Reading by Third campaign with the goal of increasing the number of children who can read proficiently by the end of the third grade. More than 100 community leaders and educators gathered at the Haggin Museum to discuss the problem and set goals for reversing our community's poor literacy rates.

During the gathering, University of the Pacific President Pamela A. Eibeck announced that Stockton had been accepted as a charter member of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative effort by funders, nonprofit partners and civic leaders across the nation to ensure that more children succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, career and active citizenship. Of the 124 communities to have joined the campaign so far, Stockton is the only one whose effort is being led by a college or university.

The Beyond Our Gates Community Council, which comprises local literacy experts, educators, and representatives from businesses, the faith community, nonprofits and government, aims to work alongside parents, teachers and other stakeholders in confronting the root causes of low literacy. To that end, the Community Council has released the first San Joaquin Literacy Report Card, a frank assessment of literacy in the county.  

The report card shows where the county stands with regard to factors that influence early literacy, including preschool enrollment and student attendance. It will be updated annually, providing a meaningful way for educators and community leaders to track progress, identify successes and pinpoint challenge areas.

Eibeck pledged the university's support and expertise to help community organizations put a laser focus on raising literacy rates among third graders.

"We're helping children learn today so that they can be effective citizens tomorrow," Eibeck told the group gathered at the Haggin. "This is a tremendously powerful group. ... Tackling such a deep-rooted issue will require a collaborative approach. If a young person is not able to read by the third grade, their future and the future of our community are at risk."

The statistics in San Joaquin County are sobering, Eibeck said. Out of a classroom of 25 third graders, on average, only nine students are able to read proficiently. Less than 40 percent of local third graders demonstrate proficiency on standardized language arts tests.

Improving that figure is important, experts say, because after third grade students are expected to use computers for homework and classroom studies, read books and solve more complex problems. The child who is not a strong reader by the end of third grade is at risk of falling behind further, dropping out and have fewer chances of finding gainful employment after high school.

"We're building a collaborative effort to solve a significant problem," Eibeck said.

To help promising nonprofit organizations deliver literacy services, Pacific and community partners including First 5 San Joaquin and Community Foundation of San Joaquin are securing funding for a community grant writer. At no cost to participating agencies, the community grant writer will help nonprofits apply for funds to support and expand their efforts.

Also, through Pacific's affiliation with Grad Nation, the university has submitted two successful proposals that are bringing resources and expertise to the community: One has funded a half-day workshop that gave parents of preschoolers tools for supporting literacy at home. The other will send a representative from Community Partnership for Families to an intensive training on youth engagement.

Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, gave the keynote address at the Beyond Our Gates Dialogue. He noted that ensuring school readiness, improving school attendance and providing parents with the tools they need to help children perform well in school are key to the initiative's success.

Identifying problems early on is paramount, Smith said.

"We recognize that schools can't do it alone," Smith said. "We can't stand on the sidelines. This is a group of kids who won't succeed without our help. That help is embodied in the Beyond Our Gates Community Council's call to action on literacy."

By 2016, Smith said his organization will award communities that have made significant progress toward improving literacy. He said he hopes Stockton will become a model for the nation.