3rd grade reading initiative makes strides

Organizers of the third-grade reading initiative outlined the latest details to the Marshalltown City Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night.

Spread the Words-Read by 3rd, the program that earned Marshalltown the All-America City designation in 2012, kicked off in January. Arlene McAtee, the program’s organizer, said three task forces have already begun implementing plans.

The task forces in the areas of summer learning loss, attendance and school preparedness have all made strides to put their pilot plans in place in the past few weeks, said Lindsey Upah, the program’s coordinator.

Most notably, Marshalltown was one of 61 communities – the first in Iowa – to receive a Promise Neighborhood grant. The one-year, $500,000 grant will go to help fund comprehensive planning, including the third grade reading initiative.

Through the grant, students from Lenihan will now be able to attend Rogers University, a summer learning program that is acting as a template for third-grade reading initiative efforts.

“What we are going to look at it as building a continuum of success,” McAtee said. “We will be looking at anything we need to have in place that allows every student in Marshalltown to leave high school ready to go to college or ready to go to the military or ready for a career.”

While Rogers University is still a large focus of the program, that program takes many resources, McAtee said.

The task force will continue to explore what works by expanding its programs with efforts such as the Munch and More program where volunteers read to students in the summer meal program and give them a book every two weeks to build a mini library, she said.

Upah said the initiative raised $150 and 50 books just at its kickoff in January.

The attendance task force also just finished the last of its attendance recognition last week, she said. Volunteers recognized more than 700 students for their attendance achievements at local elementary schools.

Randy Wetmore, city administrator and attendance task force member chair, said some of the planning was frustrating, but things are going smoothly now that the program is getting in full swing.

“I think we are in the fun part now,” he said.

McAtee has been asked to go to the Iowa Senate Wednesday to speak to the education committee about the reading program.

“This is a big deal. We are getting a lot of attention,” she said. “We are really being seen as some folks that are on the front line of some of these issues.”