The human costs of poverty-induced adversity start early, persist into adulthood, and betray the uniquely American birthright guarantee: where you start in life will not determine what or where you accomplish. will finish. Child poverty in the United States costs between $ 800 and $ 1.1 trillion a year. However, poverty is not an attribute of children and families, but rather poverty is a condition that can impact the development of children.
Child development is the foundation for community and economic development, as capable children become the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable society. We must ensure that all children acquire this solid foundation from the first years of life. We then work to support their journey towards college and / or career preparation and getting a job with a living wage. To this end, we strive for higher on-time graduation rates for all students. High school graduates earn 47% more than dropouts and college graduates earn 59% more than dropouts. High school dropouts commit, on average, 75% of all crimes in the United States. One way to increase on-time graduation and reduce dropout rates is to reduce chronic absenteeism and keep kids connected – and in school. The biggest predictor we have for connecting lower absenteeism and higher graduation rates is the third grade reading marker. If students read grade three in grade three, they are four times more likely to not drop out and to graduate on time!
The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing success gaps. That said, even before COVID, the latest Virginia Biennial School Readiness Report card shows that 43% of economically disadvantaged elementary school students failed the Learning Standards (SOL) in third grade reading. The implications are dire. Nearly half of our low-income population did not read at school level before the pandemic and it will likely be worse as teachers and families grapple with the last two years of classroom disruption and loss of learning.
Our foundation recently presented the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative in Winchester. The campaign seeks to disrupt generational poverty and secure a brighter future for children from low-income families by helping them take the first step on the ladder of success: graduation from high school. To this end, we are planting a flag around the importance of literacy in grade three. Over the past seven months, a growing coalition representing a wide range of organizations has come together to discuss and develop a community-wide action plan. Our new plan focuses on improving readiness for school, reducing chronic absenteeism and increasing learning opportunities in the summer and after school. We believe that everyone has an important role to play in helping our children and families improve their reading readiness in Grade 3. Our planning effort will soon culminate with Winchester joining the National Campaign for Reading at School Level, which now includes more than 350 communities in 45 states. We hope you will join our growing coalition as we seek to make a real difference to the well-being of our community.
Matthew T. Peterson, MA is the Executive Director of the John & Janice Wyatt Foundation.