Last week, we reported the exciting news that the Community Foundation of North Central Washington and United Way of Chelan and Douglas counties are collaborating on a comprehensive approach to assist early childhood education in our region.
The two organizations applied for and received a grant of $85,000 a year for four years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That money will fund AmeriCorps reading volunteers for 15 elementary schools that have high rates of poverty and where 70 percent of the students are reading below grade level. In addition, some money will go to support the Classrooms Can! program that offers 50 teachers $1,000 for entrepreneurial projects to keep kids engaged in math, science, technology, arts education, literacy and obesity prevention.
The funds from the Gates Foundation are being dedicated to the Ending Poverty through Education Initiative. This effort represents a watershed moment in trying to break the cycle of poverty. Early childhood learning has been proven to be the key to keeping kids in school and improving graduation rates. Without a high school diploma, the future is bleak for the next generation.
“We know that students not reading at grade level, especially in the early grades, have marginal success at catching up with their peers,” said Rich McBride, superintendent of the North Central Educational Service District.
It’s stunning that more than 80 percent of the elementary schools in Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties meet the criteria for applying for funds for the AmeriCorps volunteers. Solving this is a huge priority that will impact our future.
The beauty of this effort, according to Community Foundation Executive Director Beth Stipe, is that we will know in four years what kind of impact this has had in those schools. The reading scores are calculated every year and so we’ll have an intimate understanding of how well the intervention has worked.
The funds for the Classrooms Can! project will support creative new ways to engage students in the entire K-12 system in the region.
There are other programs being wrapped around these two projects. United Way Executive Director Alan Walker said his organization has gotten an $87,000 grant through Thrive by Five to provide an assessment tool that can be used by child care providers to help them align their work to improving the success of the kids before they get to school.
Another United Way initiative involves working with pediatricians to encourage parents to provide strong developmental help to their kids.
And Stipe says there will be opportunities for all of us in the community to help read to kids and make a difference one child at a time. It’s up to all of us to teach the next generation.
How impressive it is that leaders in our community have developed such a dynamic and forward-thinking program to address a critical need. Rather than reacting to the problem and wringing hands, as happens all to often, people are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.
I believe these efforts will transform our region and set the standard for community engagement and collaboration in solving a serious problem.