Bennett, Ledbetter: United Way of the Midlands investing in kids’ success

March 27, 2014 

— The knowledge economy is not waiting around, and South Carolina’s future is at stake. We must give all students access to an education that will prepare them for college, career and citizenship. School readiness and third-grade reading proficiency are two critical achievements that can markedly improve the future of our children and our state.

Research shows that brain development is enhanced by high-quality infant and toddler care, consistent, meaningful interaction with adults and participation in 4-year-old kindergarten. Children with these experiences are more likely to be school-ready.

United Way supports programs such as Vital Connections of the Midlands, a nationally accredited early care and education agency that provides individualized attention and care for more than 100 low-income and homeless infants, toddlers and 4-year-olds weekly. Last year, 97 percent of enrolled children either met or exceeded their developmental milestones.

How do we know when a child has the basic skills to begin school? At the state level, we don’t. United Way of the Midlands is an advocate for a statewide school-readiness assessment that would help measure the effectiveness of early education programs and inform parents, caregivers and educators about a child’s mastery of essential skills. This will help us take early education to the next level.

Students learn to read up to the end of the third grade; from then on they are reading to learn. Unfortunately, 39 percent of S.C. fourth graders read below grade level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It is very difficult for those students to catch up.

State efforts such as additional reading staff in public schools, intensive summer reading initiatives and enhanced teacher training and professional development are key to surmounting these challenges.

Communities also can make a difference. Through the Midlands Reading Consortium, United Way reinforces teachers’ classroom efforts by providing more than 530 struggling elementary readers weekly tutoring sessions with 345 volunteers at 15 schools in three Midlands districts.

We are committed to understanding the needs of our youngest children and finding ways to help prepare them for success. We encourage everyone in our community to do the same. Our kids deserve a chance to succeed, and frankly, we can’t afford not to give it to them.

Cynthia Bennett

Board Member, United Way of the Midlands

Tom Ledbetter

Chairman, Midlands Reading Consortium

Columbia

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