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State Literacy News: Mississippi Launches Reading Initiative Campaign

by Janice Cuddahee
Tue, Nov 29th 2016 11:00 am

Excerpts in italics taken from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

As an organization dedicated to helping literacy providers throughout New York State build their capacity to be well-managed, well-governed and to provide quality instruction, Literacy New York carefully studies literacy strategies from all over the world to determine best practices. 

And although Literacy New York specifically works with adult learners, we know that new policies implemented within the world of youth education have far reaching impacts for our world. Sometimes tactics used can be adapted or modified for use in our world. So, we pay attention—and we learn. 

We are enthusiastic about a project out of Mississippi, mostly due to its collaborative and statewide approach. We support any project that promotes literacy, and are always encouraged when elected officials and the philanthropic community direct resources to this issue. 

Mississippi officials announced today that they will launch a Statewide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative to encourage nonprofits, business leaders and schools to work together to support students reading on grade level by the end of third grade.

The Statewide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading will focus on promoting work in local communities that are interested in developing programs to enhance reading performance in partnership with schools. The goal is to create at least 10 community partnerships statewide.

Mississippi is one of several states to join the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network. 

New York State has not joined this effort as a state, but various regions have joined. They include: 

  • Buffalo
  • Chemung County
  • Cortland County
  • Herkimer & Oneida Counties
  • Madison County
  • New York City
  • Rochester
  • Syracuse

The Campaign is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship.

The Campaign focuses on an important predictor of school success and high school graduation—grade-level reading by the end of third grade. As of August 2016, there are more than 285 communities in more than two dozen states participating.

Communities who choose to participate work together to create action plans for reading success that focus on these key areas:

  • School readiness
  • Attendance
  • Summer learning and after-school learning
  • Third grade reading

Dr. Kim Benton, chief academic officer at the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), said the campaign promotes community conversations and actions that benefit students.

"This is an effort to get grassroots community support for literacy. Helping students read on grade level is not just a school responsibility. It takes everyone working together to ensure student success," Benton said.

Dr. Angela Rutherford, University of Mississippi director of the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction at the University of Mississippi, said the state and national campaign efforts will provide supports to communities to make their programs successful.

"We know that not all students have access to high-quality preschool programs and they need additional support between Kindergarten and third grade. Participating communities will have easy access to the national campaign and the proven and promising models, programs and strategies that have worked for students," she said.

Mississippi's statewide campaign grew out of the philanthropic community, specifically a group of grantmakers who are members of the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers, said Sammy Moon, coordinator for the association. The grantmakers united to design the statewide effort and to build the public-private partnership necessary for implementation. 

"The fact that members of the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers worked collaboratively to move the effort from design to implementation is quite innovative within the philanthropic sector," Moon said. "It is even more unique that several funders - the Phil Hardin Foundation, the Barksdale Reading Institute, the Molpus Foundation, the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the CREATE Foundation, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Corporation - have pooled resources to create a Small Grants Fund which will provide access to grants for local communities that become part of the statewide campaign.

"It is a testament to the fact that we can accomplish more by working together than any one organization can do by itself."

Literacy New York is very encouraged by the state of Mississippi's comprehensive approach to literacy issues, especially the financial commitment from private foundations. As we work to advance adult literacy, we can use this as a model to illustrate the power of communities coming together for change. 

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