USF Sarasota-Manatee to host expert panel on grade-level reading

Selby Auditorium

Selby Auditorium

SARASOTA, Fla. (July 28, 2015) – Grade-level reading is a hot topic in education circles and this week USF Sarasota-Manatee will play host to a panel discussion about efforts locally and nationally to improve reading levels.

The forum, called “Grade-Level Reading: How to Tackle Our Greatest Challenge,” is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at USFSM’s Selby Auditorium, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. The event is presented by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as part of its “Hot Topics” series.

The panel will include Diana Greene, superintendent of Manatee County Schools; Lori White, superintendent of Sarasota County Schools; John Annis, senior vice president of community investment at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County; and Ron Fairchild, one of the leading voices behind the national movement for grade-level reading and the CEO of the Smarter Learning Group, a national consulting firm that specializes in helping nonprofit organizations and foundations improve learning opportunities for low-income children.

Fairchild will talk about programs nationally to help children read at grade level. Tom Tryon, opinion editor at the Herald-Tribune, will moderate the discussion.

The forum comes as Manatee and Sarasota counties are combining forces under the banner of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to improve reading levels for children in kindergarten through third grade. Experts say that reading proficiency by the third grade is an indicator of a child’s long-term success in school and beyond, including the workplace.

“The reason this is so important is that up until the third grade, the students are learning how to read. From that point on, they’re expected to know how to read,” said Beth Duda, lead consultant for the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Many who fall behind come from impoverished or distressed neighborhoods that lack resources and the support network to help them keep up. Currently, Sarasota and Manatee counties have 57 percent and 60 percent of students in lower grade levels who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Dr. G. Pat Wilson, interim Dean of the USFSM College of Education, said the campaign stands out for three key reasons:

“First, the community has identified a problem and is working to resolve it. This is grass-roots and comes from the community. Second, it’s being addressed by a coalition of partners – people, agencies, foundations and schools working together, and USFSM is at the center working with these people and agencies – and third that it’s part of a national effort. Other communities nationally are developing their own plans so that we can compare and learn from each other,” Dr. Wilson said. “Working together I think we can make a difference.”

Equipped with action plans, the Sarasota and Manatee school districts, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Manatee Community Foundation, The Patterson Foundation, the United Way, USF Sarasota-Manatee and other groups have begun collaborating to bring more resources to elementary schools in low-income areas.

In April, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading was formed to coordinate the two-county effort. The campaign, supported by more than 40 groups, focuses on five key areas: school readiness/early learning, chronic absences, summer learning, healthy readers and parent/family engagement.

To tackle absenteeism, for example, the groups are helping pay for social workers to find out why some children are missing school and how to get them back.

In another example, the groups set up a summer program at an elementary school where parents attend class to earn a nursing certificate while their children participate in a reading program. This combined effort helps both parents and their children, ensuring they keep up with their reading.

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