5 Takeaways from the 2017 Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Conference

By LaToya Stewart and Sara Redington

This year’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading conference in Denver, Colo., brought together representatives from more than 400 funders, nonprofit leaders and public officials from across 45 states who are working to change early childhood literacy outcomes for at-risk children and their families.

We were fortunate to attend in our roles at United Way of Tarrant County and The Miles Foundation.

Reading well by third grade is the No. 1 predictor of school success and a goal that has now been adopted by over 300 communities across the United States to help boost student academic performance and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Our Takeaways

Latoya Stewart, is vice president of community development-education for United Way of Tarrant County.

Latoya Stewart, vice president of community development-education for United Way of Tarrant County.

1. Share Best Practices

The annual conference provides the opportunity for communities to network together, share lessons learned and highlight best practice strategies from those partners who are excelling in bolstering student outcomes and family success.

The Campaign’s key areas of focus include:

  • Quality teaching and parent support
  • Community-driven efforts to address key contributors to third-grade reading success, including:
    • Increasing school readiness
    • Reducing chronic absenteeism
    • Preventing summer learning loss
    • Advocacy for effective programs and policies

2. Promote Parent Involvement Through Technology

During the conference, we learned of several innovative approaches and tactics to support early literacy. For example, the Bezos Family Foundation Translates Research into Action with Vroom. Jackie Bezos shared her Foundation’s vision of putting critical early childhood research into the hands of those who can use it most – parents and caregivers.

Vroom is an online application that helps parents “turn shared moments into brain-building moments” through practical everyday tips for nurturing children’s growing minds.

The tool is now used by families and caregivers around the world to help maximize the critical first five years of a child’s learning and development.

Sara Redington, director of communication for The Miles Foundation

Sara Redington, director of communication for The Miles Foundation

3. Mobilize the Community Around a Shared, Online Scorecard

ReadyKidSA, a Bexar County coalition focused on building successful child and family programs, uses an online scorecard platform developed by the Clear Impact organization in Rockville, Md., to allow partners to track progress toward shared child safety, health and school readiness outcomes and goals.

The Coalition’s vision is to “Grow happy, healthy, ready children,” and its purpose is twofold: 1) build a comprehensive early childhood system that supports children from birth to age 8, and 2) provide parents and caregivers with the tools and resources to better support their families.

4. Focus on Family Literacy

The goal of the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network in Michigan is to ensure all children have what they need to succeed in life. The network is focused on four key strategic outcomes:

  • Children enter school ready to learn
  • Children succeed in school
  • People are prepared for and succeeding in post-secondary education
  • and people are gainfully employed.

It’s the last strategic aim that highlights new ways in which results for parent engagement can be improved by focusing on family literacy.

FGLN seeks to improve workforce education and training for individuals who identify as parents/caregivers.

During the Campaign for Grade Level Reading panel, FGLN Executive Director Ja’Nel Jamerson, shared the importance of fostering parent-child together time that extends beyond a program.

“Everything we do is completely supplementary to what parents do.  When we go home at the end of the day, parents are still the parent.”

He went on to share the value FGLN has adopted in creating a culture where parents become the programmers, noting: “We must value parents and what they bring to the table.”

5. Summer and out-of-school literacy matter

Read On Avondale is an Arizona collaborative effort facilitated by Valley of the Sun United Way to identify gaps and enable collaboration across community efforts focused on early literacy to help support the community.

The program had success deploying reading coaches into existing out-of-school-time and summer programs. They shared best practices, among them:

  • Enroll kids into summer programs before school is out
  • Promote “Read 20 minutes each day” message
  • Provide literacy games on an interactive platform
  • Conduct pre-tests and post-tests with second graders
  • Establish a “Continuum of Literacy Best Practices” (not a curriculum or checklist)

Sara Redington is director of communication for The Miles Foundation in Fort Worth. LaToya Stewart is vice president of community development-education for United Way of Tarrant County.