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Grand Rapids selected as pacesetter for exemplary work with young readers

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National honor recognizes work in the early years to ensure that low-income students are reading on grade level by the end of third grade.
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About the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by dozens of funders and nonprofit partners across the nation to ensure that low-income children succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. The Campaign focuses on the most important predictor of school success and high school graduation—grade-level reading by the end of third grade.


The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has named Grand Rapids a Community Solutions PaceSetter for its leadership in addressing the challenges that keep many low-income students from learning to read.

Grand Rapids is one of 124 cities, counties and towns nationwide that has committed to increase significantly the number of low-income students who read on grade level by the end of third grade. The city will be honored at a national conference in Denver June 30-July 2 when the full network of communities will gather with nonprofits, foundations and federal and state policymakers. Several states will also be honored as PaceSetters, and 10 to 15 communities will receive the All-America City award, which is tied this year to the reading campaign.

"What an acknowledgement to be nominated for and receive the PaceSetter Honors. We are just beginning a long-standing community partnership working collectively to increase the number of children in Kent County who are reading at grade level. We are making strides in our community addressing chronic absenteeism, summer learning loss and kindergarten readiness and will continue our efforts to guarantee that all children succeed,” said Carol Paine-McGovern, director of the Kent School Services Network.

The PaceSetter Honors recognize communities that are "leading by example" to solve one or more of these three challenges that can undermine early literacy. In many cases, the PaceSetters still have much work to do. But their efforts provide other communities with promising models to replicate, as well as inspiration for working toward their own creative solutions.

“We are so fortunate to have a hard working network of educators and organizations that strive to prepare our young people for success in school and in their future,” said literacy champion and Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell.

In the case of Grand Rapids, the Literacy Center of West Michigan’s Community Literacy Initiative leads a coalition of literacy providers and community stakeholders in working collectively to improve literacy for all ages in West Michigan. The Community Literacy Initiative spearheaded Grand Rapids’ involvement in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading by developing a Community Solutions Action Plan that addresses the community’s efforts in working to improve the reading skills of young readers.

“As a new literacy coalition, we are excited about the broad support and strong programming that already exists in our community We are proud of the efforts thus far and look forward to seeing the collective impact that will result from this process,” said Lindsay McHolme, Community Literacy Liaison at the Literacy Center of West Michigan.

Beyond the honors, Grand Rapids’ plan for improving early literacy makes it a charter member in a national movement of local leaders, states, nonprofits and foundations putting a stake in the ground on third-grade reading. Third grade marks the point when children shift from learning to read and instead begin reading to learn. Students who haven't mastered reading by then are more likely to get stuck in a cycle of academic failure, drop out of school and struggle throughout their lives.

“I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the organizations and individuals involved in the development of the Community Solutions Action Plan for Kent County. Our state can once again look to Grand Rapids as an example of the commitment needed to find solutions to the barriers that prevent a substantial number of our young people from achieving academic success,” said Senator Dave Hildenbrand.

The cities and counties involved in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Community Network are adopting a collective impact strategy, engaging the full community around the goal of supporting low-income children from birth through third grade. The plans involve schools but acknowledge that they alone cannot address the myriad challenges that keep children from learning to read. The strategies include ensuring that children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed, attend school regularly and keep learning through the summer months.

"There is no single silver bullet,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign and a senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Each of these PaceSetter cities is contributing one more piece of the puzzle."

The network gives Grand Rapids access to an online help desk, peer-learning opportunities, meetings with national experts and policymakers and a foundation registry designed to expand and replicate successful programs.  

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