2022 Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Community Update Breakfast

Todays News

Pictured: Keynote Speaker Ralph Smith, Managing Director, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

After meeting virtually for the past two years, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading came together for their first in-person community update breakfast Tuesday morning at GROVE in Lakewood Ranch. Lead partners and community members gathered together to connect and strengthen their resolve to help children from birth through third grade, especially those from asset-limited families, succeed in life by ensuring they read on grade level.

Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading opened the program by asking everyone to keep in their minds and hearts our neighbors who have suffered after Hurricane Ian. She welcomed the donation of gift cards to be distributed with families who are struggling and shared opportunities to contribute to disaster relief. She noted that the families facing the greatest challenges right now are also the families who have had two years of learning disrupted because of Covid 19 and that although third-grade reading scores had improved a few years ago, the pandemic and disruption it caused are reflected in the most recent scores, which are lower. She encouraged individuals, businesses, nonprofits, schools, housing authorities, government and the media to work together to help lift our students to the success they deserve.

The power of video was then used to present twin sisters, Niavy and Janeli Griffith, students at Ashton Elementary School. The girls proudly announced that they are ‘fantastic readers' because for the past two years, they participated in THIS BOOK IS COOL, a series of 100 webisodes designed to encourage a love of reading. It premiered on June 1, 2020, and since then, thousands of children from across the Suncoast region have qualified to receive free books thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation. In 2022, 3,220 kids participated and combined, they read 89,721 books.

After the video presentation, keynote speaker, Ralph Smith, Managing Director for Campaign for Grade-Level Reading took the stage. He spoke about the fact that today, we have far more children stranded on the wrong side of an achievement gap. “The pandemic didn’t cause the gap, but it contributed to it and made it worse,” he said. He talked about the layering of disasters upon economically-challenged families as a “slow-moving disaster” referring to all of the challenges these families are facing, including the pandemic, climate disasters and the latest hurricane. “Kids of challenged families need services, support and care that are 24/7, 365 and multigenerational,” he said. “Schools are not the solution. We’ve got to broaden our aperture and get communities involved in and leading the effort.” He acknowledged the unique work of the partnerships involved--The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation, United Way Suncoast and United Way of Charlotte County–which together create a set of relationships that become networks and webs through which community is built and the foundation for which community resilience is set. ”What we are doing is helping us commit to the generational imperative to do what we can to build a community that will leave to the next generation a democracy that works to solve problems, a world with good air to breathe, a world that can accommodate migration and refugees, a world that can solve the climate challenge, and a world that is worthy of the children of which we profess to care.”

After a group singalong of “This Little Light of Mine,” President and CEO of the Patterson Foundation, Debra Jacobs briefly spoke. “You are part of every child in our region's future,” she said. “Thank you for giving and using your gifts the way you do.”

Pictured: Keynote Speaker Ralph Smith, Managing Director, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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