In 2015, the Iowa West Foundation and United Way of the Midlands joined together to launch an early literacy movement now known as Raise Me to Read. The initiative was born out of the fact that a third of Pottawattamie County fourth graders can’t read proficiently. It’s a startling statistic that particularly affects low-income families. Studies show that children who can’t “read to learn” by third grade are likely to fall behind in elementary school and become frustrated by middle school. Therefore, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
The Raise Me to Read campaign seeks to ensure that ALL children, regardless of income or background, read on grade level by the third grade. To accomplish this, the initiative focuses on three key areas proven to positively impact grade-level reading:
1) Every child has access to high-quality 0-8 education and learning.
2) Birth-8 educators and staff have necessary training and skills to be effective.
3) Children live in literacy-rich environments
Brain development research shows literacy efforts are most effective when they begin much earlier than kindergarten. Raise Me to Read aims to engage and mobilize the community to support early learning for children ages birth to 8. The vision is for children to begin school prepared and eager to learn, for parents to feel supported in their role as their child’s first teacher; and for the community to understand how to support literacy and early learning.
For Raise Me to Read to succeed in involving the community as a whole in support and implementation of early literacy and learning, there are seven work groups that evolved out of a community planning session. They include the health industry, business and faith communities, and most importantly parents and caregivers. Each of these groups involved brings their own resources and areas of expertise to ensure the campaign’s success. If you or your organization would like to join the effort, visit the website to learn more about partnership and volunteer opportunities. You also can contact Samantha Emerine, Director of Raise Me to Read.
In 2007, Iowa West Foundation sponsored a community needs survey. It identified the greatest liability in Council Bluffs as the relatively low level of education. This took into account a low percentage of citizens with a bachelor’s degree or higher and an increasing high school dropout rate, which we now know is affected by reading ability in third grade. The community, including Council Bluffs Community Schools, the City of Council Bluffs, the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce and the Iowa West Foundation, has since rallied around educational improvements. In 2017, representatives from these groups accepted an All-America City Award for the community’s Grade-Level Reading efforts.
The expected end results and ensuing impact of Raise Me to Read include:
All low-income children have access to high-quality early education programs.
- All children enter kindergarten with strong foundational and early literacy skills
- All children attend school consistently
- All children engage in summer learning or enrichment
All children have birth-8 educators and staff with necessary supports to create language-rich environments to support children’s development.
Every child lives in a supported and supportive family.
- Parents have access to resources to promote literacy in the home
- The community integrates and institutionalizes access to literacy resources