Third grade reading initiative kicks off

Committee leaders involved in the third grade reading initiative detailed their plans for the program’s first year Wednesday evening.

Spread the Words – Read by 3rd earned Marshalltown an All-America City distinction in 2012 by vowing to get 90 percent of third graders reading proficient by 2016. The program kicked off Wednesday night and aims to hit the ground running.

The program focuses on three areas surrounding reading: school readiness, attendance and summer learning. Each of the three areas has a task force devoted to putting the goals in each area into action.

Mick Jurgensen, principal at Rogers Elementary, said attendance in kindergarten has seen a downward trend over the past few years. The attendance task force aims to reduce the amount of students missing school in kindergarten.

“If we can start kids out with good habits, hopefully kids can keep them,” Jurgensen said.

Changing the culture surrounding attendance and emphasizing that every day of school counts will go a long way toward reducing the 106 students who missed 10 percent or more of the school year, he said.

Randy Wetmore, city administrator and co-chair of attendance task force, said health is the No. 1 reason kids miss school. By making regular home visits, volunteers will be able to better address problems with attendance.

“Attendance is what allows everything else to happen,” Wetmore said. “If the kids aren’t there, none of that other stuff matters.”

The summer learning loss task force aims to create programs that mirror Rogers University, increase access to library programs and double the number of quality summer experiences that have measurable results.

Arlene McAtee, the program’s organizer, said children living in poverty have much more trouble staying up to speed. Those children are less likely to be exposed to those things that stave off summer learning loss.

“All kids lose ground in summer,” she said. “If they aren’t in enrichment activities, they are going to lose.”

Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) scores are not adequate, according to statistics presented by the school readiness task force. Only 42 percent of kindergartners met standards.

Kids are not showing up to school prepared to learn, Carrie Sodders, co-chair of the school readiness task force, said.

Sodders said her group has set about creating a common set of standards of which every parent will be aware.

“It’s not out there. It’s not already a given,” she said. “We have to develop it.”

All the task forces are still looking for volunteers to help with the third grade reading initiative. Anyone interested in being involved with the effort should contact Lindsey Upah, Spread the Words – Read by Third coordinator, at 641-752-7162 ext. 155.