A major donation from the James Irvine Foundation aims to put more Stanislaus County youngsters on track to be strong readers.
The $300,000, two-year grant to the Stanislaus Community Foundation will largely shore up coordination of wide-ranging efforts under Stanislaus READS, said Marian Kaanon, CEO of the Stanislaus nonprofit. READS stands for “ready, engaged, able, determined students.”
“We’re pleased to engage with the James Irvine Foundation to improve literacy for kids in Stanislaus County,” Kaanon said Monday. “As Stanislaus READS gained momentum in the past year, our partners have modeled collaboration every step of the way. We’re honored that Irvine is committed to this meaningful, systemic work in our region.”
A small portion of the grant will go toward other collaborative efforts, “the type of work that shows great promise to get at root-cause issues,” she said.
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The Stanislaus READS program, begun in 2014, pools staff from schools, businesses, community groups and county agencies in teams focused on problem areas linked to low reading skills in third grade – a predictor of lower graduation and higher incarceration rates.
Just 29% of Stanislaus County third-graders met state reading and writing targets in 2015.
“It’s a community-driven effort around a common agenda,” explained Amanda Hughes, program director for the Stanislaus foundation. The organizational chart for the multifront, multiagency project “looks like spaghetti, there’s so much going on,” she said.
Efforts to promote reading among young children include providing a steady supply of books for poor children through front-yard free libraries, library cards and monthly book deliveries. Other teams focus on summer learning programs and better school attendance.
“If we’re going to make a dent in this, we have to start at birth,” Hughes said. The next step is working with community groups, clinics, churches, grocery stores and other spots young families frequent, she said, to spread the word about what parents can do to help their kids.
It takes a designated staff member managing it to keep the ball moving forward.
Amanda Hughes, Stanislaus Community Foundation
“We know reading and talking to children is the best way to build vocabulary in children,” she said. Early absenteeism – even just two days a month in preschool or kindergarten – is another predictor of academic struggles ahead, and another area where parents can make a difference, she said.
The Irvine grant will allow the Stanislaus Community Foundation to hire a coordinator and expand the program’s reach from five target schools to nine, Hughes said.
The additional four schools have not been finalized. Elementary schools now piloting Stanislaus READS programs are Burbank in Modesto City Schools; Chrysler in the Stanislaus Union district in north Modesto; Sylvan in the Sylvan district of northeast Modesto; Moon in Waterford, and Las Palmas in Patterson.
“We know if we can get to children and get them engaged in learning at an early age, it leads to amazing things in our community,” Kaanon said.