United Way Urges Everyone to Get Involved in Education

United WayUnited Way of Marion County’s Executive Director says the start of the new school year is a great time to get involved with helping to improve education for local children. Pam Stone submitted the following letter discussing ways everyone can help.

No matter how old you are, the back to school season fills many of us with the excitement and promise of a new school year. But for too many of our children, it means another year of struggle and frustration to catch up academically.

This week is an opportunity to help all of our children succeed. As policymakers debate our nation’s spending priorities, United Ways across the country are hosting Education Action Week in August. Its purpose is to mobilize concerned citizens to raise awareness for education as one of those priorities.

Today, one-quarter of our nation’s young people fail to graduate high school within four years, and in some school districts they have only a fifty-fifty chance. As high-skilled, high-tech jobs become the backbone of our nation’s economy, we need a workforce with the knowledge and ability to operate advanced technology. Many economic development professionals will tell you that our country’s best chance for economic stimulus is education.

Children need support in their early years to ensure success in high school and beyond. A critical juncture is 4th grade reading proficiency. Two out of every three 4th graders in the United States score below the proficient level in reading. And the numbers are even worse for low-income students. Eighty-three percent of 4th graders from low-income families cannot read at a proficient level.

Poor reading ability in early years leads to behavior problems in the classroom later. Dropouts, in turn, are more likely to be unemployed, to earn low wages and to end up on welfare or in prison.

However, there are thing we can do as citizens. Education experts indicate there are a few key strategies to focus on. First, parents want to help their kids learn to read, yet they often do not have the time or skill to do so. Instilling a love of reading in a child is one of the most important, and satisfying things any adult can do.

Second, schools must have the text books, techniques and curricula that are grounded in best practice and that engage children. State and federal government are a part of the solution. We can all help elected officials recognize the importance of funding early grade reading for our economic future.

Finally and simply, kids who need extra help must get it. Connecting struggling students with a caring adult is a strategy that works wonders. We know. We’ve seen it.

How can you help? Get involved. It’s just that easy. Call United Way at 383-3108 and volunteer to tutor third graders in reading. If you can afford to spend one and a half hours out of your week, you can change three small lives forever. If we change enough lives, we can change everything.

Pamela J. Stone
Executive Director
United Way of Marion County

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