Earlier this month a group of community leaders and volunteers gathered in Marshalltown's council chambers. As they learned about efforts underway for Marshalltown's Third Grade Reading Campaign, they filled three large easel boards with programs that already exist for our children.
The community is one of many resources and many individuals dedicated to helping our students achieve.
However, three widespread problems - school readiness, school attendance and summer learning - continue to threaten our students' education.
Too many children from low-income families begin school already behind. They are less likely to be read to, they hear fewer vocabulary words and probably won't attend a quality preschool.
Further, too many low-income family students have a chronic absence problem. Research found that one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students nationwide miss nearly a month of school each year, and the proportion is much higher in many poor districts.
Meanwhile, summer learning loss means some kids might lose as much as two months of achievement over the summer.
All these factors impact reading - the most important skill students will use to learn after third grade. From that point forward, they are reading to learn.
Locally, a large portion of our population faces these challenges. It's estimated that the Marshalltown poverty rate is slightly higher than 16 percent. The Marshalltown Community School District district-wide free and reduced lunch rate is approximately 30 percent higher than the state average.
The need is evident, so when the National Civic League introduced a third-grade reading success initiative to cities nationwide, two of our proven leaders stepped forward for the Marshalltown effort.
Led by Sue Martin, director of the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation and Arlene McAtee, director of Mid-Iowa Community Action, the campaign is taking off.
Marshalltown is one of 150 communities in 36 states participating in this endeavor. A number of local community members will now begin developing community-based strategies to meet our local challenges.
Sweetened with the incentive of potentially applying for the 2012 All American City Award, the National Civic League made the reading campaign the sole focus of its annual awards.
While the reading campaign has been supported by school administration and endorsed by the city of Marshalltown, the collaboration will need community backing.
As the process moves forward we encourage participation in our community-based plan as it develops. We applaud Martin and McAtee for their dedication to this initiative as well as the many individuals who have already committed to helping boost third-grade reading levels.