The following OpEd appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.
At the foundation of education is the ability to read. It’s a cornerstone to success in school, work and life. But did you know one in four children grows up not knowing how to read? Or that 63% of Kansas third graders aren’t reading at grade level? If they are not reading at grade level, they slowly begin to fall behind. In fact, they are four times more likely to drop out of school.
Our local United Way and Wichita State University men’s basketball program are joining forces with Coaching for Literacy to fight for childhood literacy in our community. WSU is hosting the #Fight4Literacy game Feb. 18 to raise funds and awareness for local literacy efforts, and we are counting on our community’s support.
Childhood literacy has lifelong consequences. Nearly 54% of U.S. adults read below a sixth-grade level. This affects an individual’s ability to hold a good job and provide an optimistic future for their family.
To encourage children in south central Kansas to develop a love of reading before they even start school, United Way sponsors Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This program sends children from birth to 5 years old a new, age-appropriate book, free of charge, in the mail every month. By the time they enter school as a kindergartner, they will have acquired their own personal library of 60 books. To date, more than 782,000 books have been distributed locally since the program launched in 2011.
Also, in collaboration with Wichita Public Schools, United Way’s Women United affinity group organizes community volunteers to coach third-grade students who are struggling with their reading skills. These Read to Succeed coaches meet weekly with a student to listen to them read and provide intervention tactics to help them improve their skills to get on track and stay on track. On average, past Read to Succeed students began third grade reading 6.5 words per minute behind their peers. By the end of the school year, they surpassed them by half a word per minute.
Illiteracy places a significant burden on the economy and our social services. By investing in children’s literacy, we not only help them succeed in school, graduate on time and reach their potential, we also build a stronger workforce in our community so that we might prosper in the years to come.
When WSU takes on its rival from Memphis on Feb. 18, both teams will be showing their support for this important issue and encouraging you to join the fight. Donations received through #Fight4Literacy will be used to purchase and distribute age-appropriate books, supplies and other resources through multiple programs to help children in our local schools become stronger readers.
You can give the power of literacy to our local students. Thousands of dollars in matching funds are provided by Coaching for Literacy. Donate online at unitedwayplains.org/literacy or mail a check, made payable to United Way of the Plains with “Fight 4 Literacy” in the memo line, to 245 N. Water St., Wichita, KS 67202. Thank you for your support of this important initiative.