Georgia Launches a Campaign to Get All Kids in the State on a Path to Reading Proficiency by 2020

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Partners from the Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Campaign with 3rd graders from Canongate Elelentary in Coweta County

Get Georgia Reading Campaign partners gather with a group of third graders from Canongate Elementary School in Coweta County.

Back row, from left: Surishtha Sehgal, NYT best-selling children’s book author; John Barge, State School superintendent; Rita Erves, Georgia PTA president; Amanda Milliner, 2015 Georgia teacher of the year; Amy Jacobs, interim commissioner of Bright from the Start: Dept. of Early Care and Learning; Carmen Deedy, renowned author and storyteller; Arianne Weldon, Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade-Level Reading director; Betsy Wagenhauser, Ferst Foundation president; Sandra Deal, first lady of Georgia; Emmett Shaffer, vice president for Education at United Way of Greater Atlanta; and Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner, Dept. of Public Health

More than 100 Partners Pledge to Keep All Kids on Track to
Read By The End of Third Grade

Georgia Family Connection joined first lady Sandra Deal and more than 100 partners representing government agencies, business, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and communities from across the state at Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) in Atlanta this week to launch Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The Campaign partners promised Georgia’s children that they will work together to get all kids on a path to reading proficiency by third grade by 2020.

“We are at a critical point in time when it comes to preparing Georgia’s next generation of leaders,” said Arianne Weldon, director of Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. “The first critical milestone for any child’s success in education is the ability to read by third grade, because this is the moment a child transitions from learning to read, to reading to learn.”

Why This Matters
Nearly two-thirds of Georgia’s children are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade. According to a longitudinal study commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who can’t read by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. Children born into low-income families who lack access to educational opportunities arrive in kindergarten having heard 30 million fewer words within the first four years of life than their peers from more financially stable homes. Failure to reach this milestone has implications on Georgia’s ability to prosper.

“We must make an active effort to increase the percentage of children reading well and independently at grade-level,” said Georgia first lady Sandra Deal. “By giving each and every child access to education at an early age, we are able to teach them the essential skills they need to build a foundation for all their future academic endeavors. Children are some of Georgia’s most capable and treasured resources, and it is critical that we pave their path to lifelong education with opportunities to learn.”

The good news in Georgia, according to Weldon, is that there’s already a lot of work underway to get kids reading, but up to now, progress has been slow because much of that work has not been aligned. “Today we’re poised to pick up speed, because the Campaign’s partners have rallied around a common agenda,” she said. “We’re working across sectors to make sure kids not only have access to books, but to food, vaccines, productive learning environments, engaged families, and effective teachers as well. Because kids can’t learn to read when they’re hungry, sick, or in a stressful environment.”

How We Can Get Georgia Reading
This unprecedented partnership is committed to a common agenda to keep all kids on track to read by third grade. The Campaign rests on four pillars for change that target the major drivers of increased reading proficiency — all areas of which address the birth through third-grade population:

  1. Language nutrition: All children receive language-rich, adult-child interactions that are as critical for brain development as healthy food is for physical growth.
  2. Access: All children have year-round access to learning opportunities and nutritious meals, along with supportive services for healthy development, and quality early childhood and elementary education.
  3. Productive learning climate: All educators, families, and policymakers understand and address the impact of learning climate on social-emotional development, school attendance, engagement, and ultimately student success.
  4. Teacher preparation and effectiveness: All educators provide high-quality, evidence-based instruction and effective learning experiences tailored to the needs of each child, regardless of the child’s background.

Getting all children on that path to reading proficiency by third grade starts at birth. This means educating parents on the importance of how talking, reading, and singing with their children is critical to language and literacy development.

“Language is the basis for which all learning occurs,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Dept. of Public Health. “Children require a steady diet of language nutrition, because neurologic development of the brain is biologically dependent on language. My message as a health officer is a simple one, but it’s vital. Talk with your baby.”

And when a child enters school, the school environment affects a student’s ability to learn. “It is critical that our students are in the care of effective, adequately prepared teachers, and that students attend schools where they feel safe, secure, and connected—that is conducive to learning and growth,” said State Superintendent John Barge. “We are working to ensure that all teachers are prepared, from day one, to differentiate instruction based on the varying needs of children in their classrooms, and we are making progress toward ensuring a positive school climate for all of Georgia’s public school students.”

We’re All In This Together
Weldon assures parents, teachers, and children that they’re not alone. “A tremendous amount of resources and organizations already exist to support you,” she said. “ is the place where all stakeholders can access in one convenient location, valuable resources, best practices, stories, and educational transformation occurring across the state. Getting kids to read takes more than good schools, more than great teachers, more than loving parents. It requires everyone to play a role. So I encourage every Georgian to visit our website to make your promise to get Georgia reading.”

Get Georgia Reading is a member of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Network. Launched in May 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by funders, nonprofits, government agencies, business leaders, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. It focuses on reading proficiency by the end of third grade, a key predictor of high school graduation and a milestone missed by fully 80 percent of low-income children.

Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director
404-527-7394 (x113)

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