The goal of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (AR-GLR) is that by 2020, all Arkansas children will read at grade level by the end of third grade. We will achieve this goal through four strategies: 1) foster a culture that understands the importance of reading and encourages parents to support their children’s reading development, 2) build capacity at the local level to make policy changes and implement programs as needed, 3) expand the knowledge base about what works to increase reading levels, and 4) develop and advocate for policy solutions that will increase reading proficiency levels among elementary school children. The following are highlights of what we have accomplished and what we are planning over the next year.
AR-GLR Week: Governor Mike Beebe proclaimed August 12-16 as AR-GLR week. We launched the week with the video release of the Governor’s proclamation read by a group of elementary school children from Little Rock. During the week we announced three grants made by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the principal partner and funder for the campaign, as part of the AR-GLR Community Solutions Initiative (CSI). These grants were made to three AR-GLR partners around the state – AR Kids Read; Marvell-Elaine Reads; and MLK Reads.
AR Kids Read is a volunteer‐based reading initiative that recruits, trains, and mobilizes tutors throughout central Arkansas to support students reading below grade level in kindergarten through fifth grade. AR Kids Read tutors are recruited from local businesses, nonprofits, churches, civic organizations, and government agencies to volunteer for in‐school and after‐school programs in Pulaski County. Through partnerships with the Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County Special school districts, AR Kids Read has placed more than 150 tutors in 40 schools. AR Kids Read has been endorsed by cornerstone community organizations like regional chambers of commerce, business leaders, faith-based organizations, and local nonprofits. AR Kids Read plans to replicate its model in communities across Arkansas over the next two years.
Marvell-Elaine Reads is a community-wide partnership of the Boys, Girls, Adults, Community Development Center (BGACDC), the Marvell-Elaine Elementary School, and community volunteers to mobilize parents and residents to increase the number of students reading proficiently in Marvell and Elaine, Arkansas. Marvell-Elaine Reads is moving the needle on third grade reading by increasing access to quality summer learning and mobilizing volunteers to provide reading tutoring. During a six-week summer day camp, Marvell-Elaine Reads provides a full day of literacy-based instruction to students by combining BGACDC’s Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School with the Marvell-Elaine Elementary School’s summer school program. Students improve their literacy skills, connect to their culture, and participate in community service and social action activities. Through home visits and parent meetings, Reading Corps Interns engage parents and the community throughout the year to increase attendance and support teachers in the classroom with reading instruction.
MLK Reads is a community partnership to train and mobilize members of Second Baptist Church and the broader community to provide direct support for aspiring young readers in grades kindergarten to third grade at Martin Luther King Elementary School in downtown Little Rock. MLK Reads provides tutors twice a week from its congregation for 50 children who are not reading on grade level. MLK Reads also hosts summer reading camps for these students and provides school supplies and other support to their families. Second Baptist Church has a rich history of promoting social and racial justice through its community outreach and ministry. The Church’s interest in grade‐level reading grew from a strategic planning process that connected early literacy to its legacy of social activism on education issues.
We wrapped up AR-GLR week with a reception honoring several Business Champions that have committed to support the campaign’s action agenda. These companies include the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Arkansas Make Every Day Count – AR-GLR is partnering with Attendance Works on a yearlong project around chronic absence that launched in October. Seven districts – Blytheville, Conway, Dermott, Flippin, Marvell-Elaine, Pulaski County, and Springdale – and one school – Martin Luther King Elementary in the Little Rock School District – are participating. Over the 2013-2014 school year, the schools and districts will analyze their K-3rd grade chronic absence data and develop plans for decreasing their chronic absence rates. They will implement their plans during the 2014-2015 school year. During September, as part of Attendance Awareness Month, two of our statewide partners – the Arkansas Education Association and the Arkansas School Boards Association – published stories about chronic absence in their publications, the Arkansas Educator and Report Card.
Arkansas Educational Television Network – The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is our statewide PBS station. In February, they produced and aired a show, “Raising Arkansas’s Readers: The Campaign for Grade Level Reading,” that featured Ralph Smith; Hedy Chang from Attendance Works; and state and local leaders from our campaign. AETN is also producing public service announcements on the campaign. So far, they have completed an overall campaign PSA and PSAs on summer learning, attendance, and parent and community engagement. These PSAs are airing two or three times a day during children’s programming. AETN is also working with our Community Solutions Initiative sites to host local kick-off events this fall and early in 2014 that will feature PBS characters, fun activities for the children, and free backpacks and books.
Advisory Committee – AR-GLR’s Advisory Committee meets quarterly to provide input on the goals, objectives, and activities of the campaign and to discuss ways that members can work together to advance the campaign. Members of the Advisory Committee include representatives from the following organizations: Arkansas 21C Network, Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, Arkansas Community Foundation, Arkansas Department of Education, Arkansas Department of Human Services, Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas Education Television Network, Arkansas Head Start Collaboration Office, Arkansas Home Visiting Network, Arkansas Out of School Network, Arkansas PTA, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Arkansas Reading Association, Arkansas School Boards Association, HIPPY USA, Imagination Library, Reach Out and Read Arkansas, Rural Community Alliance, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Literacy.
Policy Study – During the 2013 Arkansas legislative session, Arkansas State Senator David Johnson passed a bill calling for an interim study on grade-level reading. We are working with our legislative sponsor now to form a study committee whose work will start this fall and culminate in hearings before the joint House and Senate Education committee next spring and summer. The study committee will review the status of third grade reading proficiency in the state; review the current status of in-school and out-of-school policies, practices, and systems related to birth through third grade reading proficiency; identify promising policies, practices, and systems within the state and other states; and engage key stakeholders in making recommendations to the legislature.