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Kent County, under the umbrella of the Community Literacy Initiative (CLI) of the Literacy Center of West Michigan, has joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The national campaign, spearheaded by United Way Worldwide, the National League of Cities, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, aims to ensure that third grade students are reading at grade level by addressing the readiness gap, chronic absence, and summer learning loss.
According to a presentation given by the Heart of West Michigan United Way Education Vision Council, Michigan ranks 35th among the 50 states in 4th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading. Alarmingly, our state ranks 50th for African American 4th grade students, 29th for Latino students, 36th for students coming from low-income households, and 35th for students coming from high-income households.
Within Michigan, Grand Rapids ranks last in African American 4th grade reading and next to last in Latino 4th grade reading, behind Detroit in both cases.
Kent County is already well on its way to a solution. In the 2012 State of the City Address, Mayor George Heartwell noted that Grand Rapids has after school programming in every one of its city schools as a result of its City/Schools partnership. In addition, he mentioned that the National League of Cities recognized Grand Rapids as a model city for its collaborative work for children.
Mayor Heartwell said, “I am fully committed to ensuring that our children have expanded learning opportunities…Today I am calling on each of you to put children front and center as we continue to build a vibrant and sustainable community.”
Over 25 programs assisted in developing Kent County’s Community Solutions Action Plan, submitted on March 7, 2012 for national review. At the final focus group meeting, partners recognized the overwhelming support for each of the issues: the readiness gap, chronic absence and summer learning loss. The plan highlighted major initiatives and listed support programs.
Bridging the "readiness gap," the Great Start Collaborative is a group of local professionals and parents who are working with First Steps and others in the community to help ensure all children have a great start in life.
Working to lower the "attendance gap," or chronic absence, Kent Schools Services Network (KSSN) brings health and human services into the school building to serve students and families. The primary goal is to increase student achievement through lowering student absences, improving coordination of services, and delivering services as they are needed. KSSN provides Community School Coordinators that connect parents to the resources they need to be fully involved in their children’s education; DHS Case Managers that help families gain self-sufficiency and needed services; clinicians that provide counseling, crisis response, and other direct services to students and families; and nurses or nurse aides that provide medical services to students and families. The network strengthens supports that are offered to students and their families.
Efforts against the "summer slide" (summer learning loss) are an important role for Believe 2 Become Summer Learning Academy (B2B SLA), which exists in partnership with the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, Grand Rapids Public Schools and several organizations throughout the community. It provides children between the grades of pre-kindergarten and 12th grade with opportunities for summer learning that include hands-on experiences. The cornerstones for B2B Summer Learning Academy are academics, enrichment, parent engagement and college awareness. During the summer of 2011, B2B SLA offered 34 summer learning programs at a variety of organizations. This year, the initiative will offer close to 40 programs
CLI will convene forces for the cause, acting as a supplement for major initiatives and support programs that are already working to improve reading levels in Kent County. CLI is convening stakeholders at the annual Community Literacy Summit in September 2012, collecting and reporting pertinent data, and disseminating resources from the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.
The Community Literacy Initiative (CLI) of the Literacy Center of West Michigan is a literacy coalition that seeks to empower community leaders, parents, and residents to improve literacy for all ages in West Michigan.