Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Readiness: Community Unites to Meet the Challenge

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Readiness: Community Unites to Meet the Challenge

Article excerpt

Next week will begin a new school year in Sarasota and Manatee counties, while Charlotte County students already have almost two weeks behind them. For so many, this is a time of excitement, beginnings, new opportunities.

But for a great number of children, far too many, school is just another challenge that puts them behind their peers. They come to school unprepared academically and socially, and they have few, if any, role models who stress the value of education.

As discussion across America focuses on the shortcomings of the public education system, there is increasing attention being focused on preparation for school, the realization that some children, especially those from low-income families, start out behind and never catch up.

My 4-year-old granddaughter can write her name, count to 100, recognize the letters in the alphabet and sound out words. Her 3- year-old brother can do most of these tasks as well. Aside from my belief that they are especially gifted -- it is somehow unseemly to brag about your children, but grandchildren are fair game -- these are skills that will serve them well when they start school a year or two from now.

But too many children do not share this advantage. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, only one child in five between 3 and 6 years old who lives below the poverty line knows the letters of the alphabet, as compared with one in three children from more affluent households. Less than half can count to 20, while nearly 70 percent of those above the poverty line can manage this task.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has identified school readiness, along with chronic absence, summer learning loss, parent engagement and child health, as the key ingredients related to school success. Ralph Smith, managing director for the campaign, has said that some 67 percent of children nationwide, more than 80 percent of those from low-income families, cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade. His organization is working with communities and nonprofit organizations across the country to reverse this disturbing trend.

Sarasota County is in the process of becoming a part of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network. Leading this effort is the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and its generous donors, but they are not doing it alone. John Annis, vice president for community engagement at the foundation, explains that organizations across the county are working together on a Community Solutions Action Plan that will then be evaluated for inclusion in the network. …

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