Del Norte is only one year into an initiative to get every third-grader in the county reading at grade level by 2023, but already the community has seen results.

At the 2017 Literacy Symposium on Thursday, local teachers and early childhood education advocates told parents, elected officials and their colleagues that more youngsters are ready to enter kindergarten since the initiative began in 2016. The number of licensed family child care providers offering preschool-quality programs has also increased.

In addition to hearing about the progress the 3 Read ’23 initiative has made, the School Systems Implementation Team asked for input on several new programs, including one that will help parents whose children aren’t in child care offer a preschool experience for their youngsters. Parents were also asked for input on efforts to foster a more relaxed atmosphere in schools as well as another new texting program that parents will be able to enroll in.

“This campaign has raised awareness of literacy issues in our community,” said Angela Glore, executive director of First 5 Del Norte. “Hundreds of people, including many in this room, have gone to see presentations of the research so far. Many small projects have popped up completely unrelated to the core design team’s work that really raise this issue in the community, and all of you gave up another night of your time to come here tonight and hear about what comes next.”

Even though the 3 Read ’23 initiative was made public last year, the work to boost literacy has been going on for about seven to eight years, said School Systems Implementation Team member Kevin Hartwick, who is on the Wild Rivers Community Foundation Board of Directors. He spoke of school reform work undertaken both within Del Norte County Unified School District and among the community led by Building Healthy Communities and the California Endowment.

This includes initiating professional learning communities and implementing a tutoring program with the help of funding from Gail and Jim Griggs.

“After a lot of analysis and discussion and a lot of meetings, it was really clear that tutoring, although a nice tool, isn’t going to solve the issue, especially when you realize that 50 percent of third graders were not reading at grade level,” Hartwick said, referring to another statistic based on 2015 data. “We had to take it on the chin and have a lot of discussion.”

The School Systems Implementation Team reached out to parents, teachers and other community members, conducting 38 “empathy” interviews. Hartwick pointed out that some parents didn’t know what it meant for a child to be kindergarten ready or if they did weren’t sure how to help them get ready.

“After a lot of deep thought, it became very important to address those children,” he said. “What are we going to do to make a difference if they can’t read by third grade? We really don’t think we need to blame it on teachers; what are we going to do to make a change?”

During her presentation, Glore brought up several goals the School Systems Implementation Team hopes to reach as they strive for their ultimate goal. They include boosting preschool access and participation, access to quality child care for Del Norte youngsters and increasing the number of youngsters ready for school by the time they enter kindergarten.

According to Glore, in 2016, one in three of Del Norte home day care providers were enrolled in programs like the Del Norte Child Care Council’s Early Head Start program, which provides training on how to help children be ready for kindergarten. This year that number has increased to almost two in three enrolled in those programs, Glore said.

Meanwhile, Jeff Harris, superintendent of the Del Norte County Unified School District, said this year 45 percent of entering kindergartners tested as ready. In 2015, 33 percent of entering kindergartners tested as ready.

“We’re making double-digit growth in a very short amount of time,” he said.

Another program that grew out of the interviews with parents and teachers was the locally-developed program Wee Read. Designed by representatives of the Del Norte Child Care Council, the program offers books and school readiness activities to home-based day care providers, said DNCC Executive Director Melodee Fugate.

The program was launched in February and already the Child Care Council has seen results. One family day care provider had no visible books in her home, Fugate said, today she uses the program daily.

“It is so cute to watch the littles plop down when ‘It’s time for Wee Read’ is announced,” she said.

The Del Norte Child Care Council has also developed the new Preschool Experience for All program. Pointing out some parents choose not to enroll their youngsters in child care, the Child Care Council and several volunteers asked symposium attendees to provide their thoughts on things parents can do to increase their children’s success in school.

Mary Peacock preschool teacher Lindy Holloway, who helped facilitate a discussion about the Preschool Experience for All program with Sami Puperi, said her goal is to help educate parents to understand the power they have. Holloway said her goal and the goal of others working in the 3 Read ’23 symposium is to give parents those resources.

“My goal is to educate parents to help them understand what they can do for their own kids,” Holloway said. “If we can empower parents to know that they are their child’s first teacher, I think that would be the greatest step ever.”

For more information about the 3 Read ’23 initiative, visit https://spark.adobe.com/page/gU9FQkrsrgo82/

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