Working statewide was a natural choice because Arkansas is highly rural and because the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which took the lead to launch the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, is a statewide funder.
The Campaign’s “big tent” Advisory Committee has broad participation, including, among others, state agencies, education associations, early care and education groups, grassroots organizing groups, and major programs such as those providing book access and home visiting organizations.
The statewide Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading focuses on three areas:
- State policy: The strong policy advocacy component, led by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the state’s KIDS COUNT organization, emphasizes policies that research has shown can have a positive impact on early reading achievement. Current policy priorities include increased funding for high-quality pre-K programs, funding for after-school and summer programs, and maintaining current dyslexia screening and intervention requirements.
- Strategic communications: Strategic communications to a broad range of audiences are designed to raise awareness, forge a common vision, and build community engagement and public will. A notably strong partner in this effort is the Arkansas Educational Television Network, the state affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service. Radio stations appealing to diverse audiences also have been strong allies, including featuring public service announcements by local personalities. A Pledge Campaign targeting parents, educators, business leaders and policymakers, as well as social media outreach, are other ways Arkansas is building support for third-grade reading efforts.
- Supporting local efforts to develop and implement solutions to grade-level reading challenges: The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation is providing grants and technical assistance to build capacity and support mobilization of local stakeholders around grade-level reading in five communities across the state. Some of the notable developments in those communities: Eudora has engaged more than 200 parents and families through “parent universities” and other outreach activities. Seventy members of Little Rock’s Second Baptist Church, which sees promoting early literacy as a continuation of its rich history of social activism, provided twice-weekly tutoring to struggling readers, 40 percent of whom caught up to grade level, and the church hosted two week-long summer reading camps. Also focusing on summer, the Marvell-Elaine School District and the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center (BGACDC) combined the district’s summer school and BGACDC’s Freedom School (a national model created by the Children’s Defense Fund) to create a full-day summer camp. Marvell-Elaine Elementary School’s performance on state assessments now places it in the top 20 percent of elementary schools in the state. Pulaski County worked with more than 50 local organizations to recruit and train more than 400 volunteers, who have provided one-on-one and group tutoring to more than 900 children in over 40 elementary schools. And in Springdale, which has a growing number of immigrant families, the Parents Taking Leadership Action program aims to strengthen parent-school communication and enhance leadership among newcomers, and the school district’s Family Literacy Program offers parents the opportunity to learn English, spend time in their children’s classroom and learn about community resources.
Finally, two other aspects of the Arkansas effort are positioning the state for timely and sustainable impact:
- Replicating proven and promising programs: For example, presently Reach Out and Read serves 41,000 Arkansas children, and Imagination Library is providing 10,000 children birth to age 5 with a free book every month. Expanding those programs is anticipated as part of a 2015-2017 strategic plan now under development.
- Collaborating for collective impact: Expanding and enhancing the quality of summer learning opportunities, as well after-school programs, is a priority shared by the Arkansas Campaign and the Arkansas Out of School Network, one of 48 statewide networks supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.