United Way Receives National Recognition as 2018 Pacesetter

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United Way is proud to have been named with the 2018 Pacesetter Honor from The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR)—an award recognizing communities around the country for their work improving early school success. This is the fourth year in a row United Way of Lane County has received this recognition.

“Recognizing Pacesetters is our way of applauding and thanking the civic leaders, organizations and agencies that have joined forces to build brighter futures for children in their communities,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of CGLR. “We are learning with them and from them what it takes to move the needle and close the gap. Mobilized communities — like these Pacesetters — are essential to achieving early school success.”

Each year, CGLR uses its Pacesetter Honors to highlight communities that report making measurable progress on key indicators of early school success. These communities serve as proof points and represent the “leading edge” of innovation, impact and improvement within the GLR Network, currently comprised of more than 300 GLR communities, representing 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Alberta, Canada.

“This recognition is a testament to the long-standing partnerships that exist in our community and a commitment to ensuring children are successful in school and life,” said Noreen Dunnells, President and CEO of United Way. “As this designation shows, we’ve made progress and need to continue to mobilize our community by working with our schools, city and county agencies, nonprofits, civic leaders and parents.”

Ralph Smith meeting with early school success stakeholders in Lane County in July 2019.

Ralph Smith meeting with early school success stakeholders in Lane County in July 2019.

Soon after the awards were announced, Smith visited Lane County to acknowledge this significant recognition. United Way hosted a conversation with him and the many other stakeholders in early childhood success, including HeadStart, Oregon Social Learning Center, Connected Lane County, Department of Human Services, Cornerstone Community Housing, Eugene Public Library, and more. Oregon State Representative John Lively was also in attendance.

How United Way is Improving Early School Success

In 2018, members of the Lane Early Learning Alliance worked together to realize a goal of connecting data systems across early learning and K-12 that would 1. demonstrate pre-K program/service impact over time, 2. assist with programmatic and investment decisions, and 3. help partners better advocate for expanded early childhood funding. The group also facilitated provision of the Kids In Transition to School (KITS) program for 450 children and their families at 25 elementary schools, where 100 educators were trained in the KITS model and curriculum. United Way and partners also launched BookFest, a community-wide book drive and distribution that generated over 6,000 books and $1,500 through drives and business sponsorships. In total, 913 Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students at 8 elementary schools across Lane County chose 6 books each to take home before summer break, encouraging summer reading.

Why Third Grade Reading Matters

Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical milestone toward high school graduation and career success—third grade marks the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Students who have not mastered reading by that time are more likely to drop out of high school and struggle throughout their lives. National tests show that two-thirds of U.S. fourth-graders (four-fifths of whom are from low-income families) are not reading proficiently. Local data shows that over half of all students in Lane County do not meet this critical benchmark.

There are many causes to this critical, complex challenge that cannot be solved by any one program, policy or organization - it requires a coordinated and systemic community response. United Way of Lane County is proud to be bringing together and making change with the many people, organizations, and systems that can collectively help ensure early school success for kids in Lane County.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading seeks to disrupt generational poverty by mobilizing communities to promote early school success for those children currently on the high-risk side of the achievement gap. Their efforts have helped to spark a “grassroots to governors” movement for ensuring early school success, advancing grade-level reading and reducing chronic absence as important policy priorities. More than 4,100 organizations have formed “big tent” sponsoring coalitions in 300+ communities across 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Alberta, Canada. To learn more, visit gradelevelreading.net and follow the movement on Twitter @readingby3rd