Unleashing the Power of Reading is Critical for Children and Society
Headshot of Heather Crump, United Way of the Plains Community Impact Manager for Education.

By Heather Crump, United Way Community Impact Manager for Education, Special to the Wichita Eagle

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” The abolitionist Frederick Douglass understood the power of literacy and his words have inspired me throughout my career as a teacher. For the last decade, I’ve worked with children in the kindergarten through fifth grades. Learning to read is critical during those formative years. The overall development of children relies on their ability to convert from learning to read by the end of third grades to reading to learn during the fourth grade.

What happens if they don’t make that transition? We all lose. Students who aren’t reading at grade level by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Illiterate kids grow into illiterate adults, with 43% living in poverty compared to 4% of literate adults. Illiteracy can even lead to poorer health outcomes since it impacts comprehension and compliance.

Prior to the pandemic, 66% of Kansas fourth-graders weren’t reading at a proficient level. Nationally just one in three American fourth graders were reading at grade level. The struggle has increased with school disruptions caused by COVID-19. In fact, a recent Stanford study has revealed that reading fluency among U.S. second- and third-grade students is about 30 percent behind due to the pandemic’s impact on learning.

That’s why I’m inspired by community leaders and local organizations who are working with educators and to raise awareness about this important issue. Now more than ever, we all have to be part of the solution and join the battle in the fight for literacy. Our society depends on people having the fundamental skills in place to help themselves and others. Their future contributions to their families and communities won’t be optimized without sufficient reading and learning skills.

A third grade student shows off one of the books he received from United Way's Fight for Literacy campaign.How can you contribute to improved literacy rates? The Wichita State University Shocker Men’s Basketball team has partnered with the national nonprofit Coaching for Literacy to raise awareness about childhood literacy at the upcoming Shocker home game on Saturday, Feb. 12, at Koch Arena. Through United Way of the Plains, donations raised will be used to buy books and reading supplies for children in kindergarten through third grade in Wichita Public Schools located in the Shocker neighborhood.

You, too, can join the fight with a donation to unitedwayplains.org/literacy or by mailing a check to United Way of the Plains at 245 N. Water, Wichita, KS 67202.

As someone who couldn’t read proficiently until the fifth grade, I can attest to the boost in confidence and the renewed interest in learning I personally experienced once I mastered reading. I’m forever grateful for the patient school volunteers, teachers and other adults in my life who believed in me, listened to me read aloud and gave me my own books to enjoy. I’m an educator because they worked together to unleash the power of reading in me. Join me in the fight for literacy by donating now so that we can unleash the power of reading in others.

Heather Crump collaborates with others to invest in the learning of every child in our community from cradle to graduation.

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Published On: February 6, 2022Tags: ,

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