Sitting on the sideline regarding social issues that impact our state is not an option for Michelle Taylor and her colleagues at United Way of Delaware (UWDE). United Way would much rather be “in the mix” and fully engaged. One of the agency’s focus areas is ensuring that Delaware children are reading on grade level by the end of third grade. This strategic focus is an economic game-changer for the First State.
Research shows that children who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade are likely to struggle in school, and far more likely to not graduate high school. And this impacts an individual’s earning power. In Delaware, 52 percent of schoolchildren read on grade level by the end of third grade. In 17 low-income ZIP codes in Wilmington, Dover and western and central Sussex County, that rate drops to 37 percent.
“Research shows that a student who is not able to read on grade level by third grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19,” said Taylor, United Way’s President & CEO. “When you add poverty to the mix, the student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time.” Taylor added, “We are missing the mark in meeting the demand for an educated, prepared workforce and that has significant implications for the future of our state’s economy. We must address this situation with a heightened sense of urgency.”
In October 2017, with the support of Gov. Carney, the Delaware State Board of Education, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor and dozens of community-based organizations, United Way joined hands to launch the Delaware Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR), a community coalition to improve statewide literacy rates by the time a child leaves third grade. CGLR’s infrastructure includes a leadership team and three subcommittees made up of parents, teachers, school administrators and community members. The group is focused on driving significant improvements in school readiness, summer learning and school attendance.
“Improving early grade literacy is a central part of United Way of Delaware’s strategy for improving the quality of life in our state,” Taylor said. “We are excited about creating a new generation of motivated young readers across Delaware. The fight we are in will not be won alone.”
United Way is counting on others to become part of a “collective impact” approach to the statewide third-grade literacy challenge. “When we are all singing from the same song sheet, we will see a change in the success of our young people,” she said.
United Way’s collective impact method encourages donors, partners, school administrators, parents, teachers, and community leaders to participate in one centralized goal — making sure each child, regardless of their social or economic status, has the resources necessary to be successful. Therefore, the young people of Delaware are considered a chief investment now for a diverse, viable workforce later — yielding a high financial return for our state. That is a Delaware where we all would like to live, work and play.