Learning begins at birth. The first three years of life are an incredible period of growth in every area of a baby’s development as the child’s brain grows from about a quarter of the size of an adult brain to 80% of adult size.
During this critical time, regular reading aloud to children provides foundational skills that they will need to enter kindergarten ready to learn.
Nationwide, statistics indicate that children from low-income families succeed academically at much lower rates than their wealthier peers. Inadequate healthcare and poor nutrition affect the development of children living in poverty as does a lack of quality time between caregivers and their children. The average child growing up in a middle-income family has been exposed to 1000-1700 hours of one-on-one picture book reading; in contrast, the average child growing up in a less economically stable family has been exposed to just 25 hours.
Early Head Start and Head Start are free, federally funded programs that are specifically designed to promote school readiness for children under the age of five from low-income families. By blending funding sources, the SDLC currently has been able to provide full school day pre-kindergarten opportunities to 1,183 children from birth to five years old. Our Envision 2030 Strategic Plan includes a goal of continued annual expansion.
Third grade reading ability is one of the best predictors of high school graduation. Alarmingly, two-thirds of children in the United States and 80 percent of those below the poverty line fail to develop reading proficiency by third grade. The focus in the primary grades is “learning to read” while by fourth grade children are “reading to learn,” thus, overall later school success depends on adequate grade-level reading skills.
“Really Great Reading,” which is implemented in all Lee County K-2 classrooms, is a program that builds student success in reading. “Really Great Reading” provides explicit instruction in phonics, phonological awareness, decoding skills, and fluency. Students use multi-sensory hands-on kits to manipulate phonics tiles, identify syllables, and create or break apart words. Students also receive “controlled passages” which are stories that only use sounds that the student has already learned. This helps build confident readers.
During the summer months, children from low-income families fall behind as much as two months in reading achievement while children from middle-income families actually experience a slight gain. Having access to books can ameliorate the summer learning slide. This summer ALL students in 2nd grade will be registered for the “Kids Read Now” program. Students will receive nine books mailed to their homes that they pick out with their teachers in May to ensure that the books are at their reading level and based on their interests. The ninth book has only illustrations and blank pages for students to write their own short stories.
Another way to combat the summer slide is via the “Lee County Expanded Learning Summer Program.” ALL K-8 students will be invited to attend this virtual program from June 24th to July 22nd. Students will work on their individual learning paths in iReady for 45 minutes in ELA and 45 minutes in Math each week. Students will have teachers assigned to them to provide needed interventions through Zoom as well as celebrations and feedback to families.
Reading is a gateway to future success in school! We must continue to encourage the development of critical precursor reading skills for young children. We must also continue to offer expanded learning opportunities and enrichment programs for our primary grade students to ensure that they are prepared with grade-level reading ability to reach their highest potential.
School District of Lee County Board Member Betsy Vaughn represents District 6.