Tony Penn: Tucson needs to share a vision for change

2014-07-07T00:00:00Z Tony Penn: Tucson needs to share a vision for changeBy Tony Penn Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

School districts are not the sole determiner of the success or failure of our children.

After reading the Arizona Daily Star article on the Move On When Reading statute (“77 Tucson students may fail 3rd-grade reading,” June 8), United Way wanted to show support for the districts and explain some of the collective impact work happening around education.

The level of education and literacy that students reach is a community issue. In Tucson, numerous organizations work collectively to combat issues that negatively affect our students and can affect their literacy by third grade.

For 15 years, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona’s (UWTSA) First Focus on Kids Coalition, with more than 80 partners, including the Tucson Unified School District, has been working on systemic issues such as the lack of school readiness and poverty that plague one in three children in Pima County. Recognizing that what happens to children from birth to age 8 lays the foundation for a lifetime, concerted efforts are continuously made to improve the education of early childhood educators, and early childhood learning centers.

One key funding partner for this effort is First Things First, which was created by Arizona voters in 2006 to make sure that young children and their parents have access to the interventions needed for healthy development, a crucial factor in the level of literacy achieved by third grade. First Focus on Kids’ goal is that children reach kindergarten healthy and have the skills necessary to be successful learners.

Realizing the crucial role parents play in education, United Way has also partnered with TUSD and Make Way for Books to provide quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunities in TUSD’s PACE (Parent And Child Education) preschools.

Tackling community issues in the realms of health and education, United Way’s Family Support Alliance, with its 31 partners, educates parents on early childhood issues through home visitation and community-based services. UWTSA is also involved in TUSD’s efforts to combat poor oral health, a significant cause of chronic absenteeism, which is one of the main reasons children may not read at grade level by third grade.

With funding from the Seimer Institute, UWTSA’s partner, Our Family Services, is addressing the issue of chronic absenteeism through the assistance of a caseworker who works closely with families in one TUSD elementary school to provide them with necessary services and resources to support their children staying in school and attending daily.

In addition to the lack of readiness and chronic absenteeism, children’s third-grade reading level is affected by summer learning loss, when children may not have access to summer programs or books. This can put children with high need more than three months behind their peers. Read On Tucson, United Way’s third-grade reading initiative, works with more than 40 partners representing government, business, nonprofits, faith-based agencies, institutes of higher learning, community organizations, and 19 schools in TUSD, the Sunnyside Unified School District, the Flowing Wells Unified School District and the Sahuarita Unified School District to combat these three main causes of third-grade reading issues.

United Way and its Women Leading United used an evidence-based practice of distributing 12 new self-selected books to 1,085 children in 12 schools to read over the summer to slow down the summer learning loss.

School districts need support from the Tucson community. We need to share a vision for change.

Collectively working on solving the systemic issues that ultimately cause the lack of literacy we are seeing in third-graders is the only way all of our children will read at grade level by third grade and succeed in school and in life.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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