Must Do: Read Well By Third Grade

May 19, 2013

Terri Caine, Co-founder of Summit 54 (L) Colorado Lt. Governor Joe Garcia (R)
Credit Roger Adams

A recent study shows that 40 percent of Colorado high school graduates who go on to college need remedial help with at least one subject.  This high number may in part be the result of problems the kids had as far back as first and second grade.  A major factor, educators believe, is a lack of adequate early literacy.  As Aspen Public Radio’s Roger Adams explains, reading skills must be acquired at a very young age.

Getting by without the ability to read well is becoming more and more of a hurdle for lifetime success as jobs of all types become more technical.  Whether a child goes to college or pursues a trade, reading skills are universally mandatory.  Colorado’s Lt Governor Joe Garcia whose focus is education says Colorado has a literacy challenge.

“We know that in this state about one out of four kids leaves third grade not being proficient in reading and the real impact of that is then those kids are not able to keep up with the other academic subjects later on and they’re less likely to be successful.”

It presents problems later in life like the 40 percent of Colorado high school graduates who need remedial help in college.  In turn it reduces the ability to get good paying jobs and careers as adults.  Last year, Garcia and Governor Hickenlooper helped spearhead a major early childhood literacy program.  This year, as in previous sessions, the Colorado Legislature struggled to balance education reforms with how to fund them.  Increasingly, says Garcia, the state is turning to private public partnerships.

“We really need community partnerships because we really need to be working with kids outside of he school building and before they ever show up at the school building.  So, that’s working with families, that’s working with community organizations like Summit 54 and Summer Advantage and working with folks who want to put money, resources into education and its something the state and the school district wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

"Kindergarten through third grade is learning to read; after third grade its reading to learn."

Philanthropist Terri Caine is one of those who partner with the state to improve childhood literacy.  Early reading skills, she says are critically important, “Kindergarten through third grade is learning to read, after third grade its reading to learn.”

Caine and her husband are Aspen residents who co-founded Summit 54 the program the Lt Governor credits with helping to turn the literacy statistics around. The organization provides funding for education programs in The Roaring Fork Valley.

“We are business people and so how we approach our philanthropy is as a business person would, researching to find the best programs, those that have metrics of proven success and then we sponsor those programs and bring them to Colorado”

The program they are supporting is Summer Advantage a national non-profit designed to provide academic and enrichment classes to students during the summer months.  Last summer, the Caines provided the funds to allow 400 K through third graders to attend a summer school literacy program.  This summer they will fund 800 students.  Education research has repeatedly found that students who don’t get support for their education at home will fall behind academic benchmarks; like reading by the third grade.  For example, a recent study in Chicago found that children who live in homes where there are no books present have a harder time with literacy.  To that end, says Terri Caine, Summit 54 includes the parents.

“We require that the parents come to a parent orientation.  The parents are taught how to help their children at home and the importance of that and why they have to be an equal partner in their children’s education.  It can’t just be the school.  They sign a contract, a pledge not only that they will have their kids in the program every day for the five week program but also that they will work with their children at home every night and help them with their reading.”

The program is now signing up students for this summer’s program.  Last Friday, Caine and Lt. Governor Garcia attended literacy presentations in Basalt and Glenwood Springs.