We’ve introduced you (in column above) to United Way of Story County’s focus in the areas of education, income and health. UWSC is still improving lives much the same as it was before, but the message is different and simpler to understand. Throughout the campaign, this weekly column will highlight different programs in each of the three community impact areas to give readers an idea of the work being done in education, income and health.
UWSC knows that a strong education is vital for a great quality of life. By investing in this impact area, kids have the early advantages needed for success once they reach school, school-aged youth have resources to help them stay on track or catch up and adults across the county have support and prevention strategies to help them succeed.
In the area of education, UWSC continues to support long-standing programs that we know work – for example, early literacy programs, access to quality child care programs for low-income families and after-school programs. But UWSC is also funding a pilot program that will help more youth achieve grade level reading by third grade, a pivotal point for learners. The monetary support for education is significant – UWSC invests 44.3 percent of the community impact budget in the education "bucket."
The importance of third- grade reading proficiency to a student’s future academic success has been documented in research, and has gained national emphasis over the last several years. The National Assessment of Education found that more than two-thirds of students nationwide were not proficient in reading by fourth grade. According to the Iowa Department of Education, only 77 percent of Iowa students in third grade were considered to be proficient in their reading performance for 2011-2012. The results are even worse for low-income students, with only 65 percent considered to be proficient in their reading performance in third grade.
That’s why United Way of Story County convened a group of community partners to create a framework for how Story County can strengthen current strategies and bring new solutions to our area to be sure children are reading at grade level.
An exciting outcome of that collaboration is a replication of the Minnesota Reading Corps successful tutoring program to help increase the number of students who are reading at grade level. The program, called the Iowa Reading Corps by United Ways of Iowa, utilizes daily, one-on-one instruction and is being implemented in four Story County elementary schools – Ames (Sawyer), Ballard East, Colo-Nesco and Nevada.
The program places AmeriCorps members, trained as elementary literacy tutors, in schools to implement literacy interventions for students who are just below proficiency in reading. Each day, members meet individually with students for a 20-minute tutoring session to build skills in phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency. As part of UWSC’s education impact area, more than $40,000 is dedicated to the pilot program to fund living stipends for the AmeriCorps members.
Bringing this pilot project to Story County will be important in the lives and future success of many children. Research shows that 95 percent of kids have the ability to read at grade level if proper interventions are utilized. The Iowa Reading Corps is one way to fill that gap, and many passionate supporters of UWSC make the difference.
(Sara Wilson is marketing director of United Way of Story County, a strategic leader in building county-wide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support, and evaluate effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community.)