Grade-Level Reading leader to visit Rogers Elementary, give talk at library

The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading managing director will visit Marshalltown Thursday to laude its efforts toward achieving the goals that earned it an All-America City distinction last year.

Ralph Smith is senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which conducts much of the research third-grade reading task forces use to develop programs for Spread the Words – Read by 3rd. Smith will visit Rogers Elementary as part of the school’s quarterly attendance recognition. School staff will also share information about Rogers University. Following his tour of the school, Smith will visit the Marshalltown Public Library to talk about the campaign’s importance.

Lindsey Upah, Spread the Words – Read by 3rd coordinator, said Smith’s visit means a lot to the campaign.

“He is the guy,” she said. “What he wants to do is get people pumped up again. We are hoping it will be a refreshing, empowering community discussion for folks.”

Mick Jurgensen, principal at Rogers, said he will be absent for Smith’s visit but that he has heard him speak twice before, and he is certain Smith’s perspective will help those unfamiliar with the campaign understand its importance.

Both Upah and Jurgensen said Smith and others have complimented Marshalltown on its ability to get efforts underway. Many communities designated as All-America Cities are still in their planning stages, Upah added.

Smith’s perspective on how to keep people enthusiastic and make sure the program is growing each year will prove invaluable, Jurgensen said.

“In many campaigns, over time, they tend to become less focused,” he said. “He can help us with those things.”

Smith will touch on the national campaign and stress how literacy is important for the economic stability of both Marshalltown and the county as a whole. Upah said his philanthropic experience will help guide Spread the Words – Read by 3rd financially so it doesn’t run out of fiscal steam.

As the initiative moves forward, those involved in it are continuing to solidify different aspects of the effort and codify the three focus areas – attendance, summer learning loss and school readiness, Upah said.

For instance, although the attendance task force hasn’t seen marked increase in attendance since it began holding assemblies to recognize kids, much of that could have to do with the weather. And inconsistent definitions of what counts as an absence are hurdles the task force needs to address. At the end of the school year, the committee plans to send home certificates with students and letters to parents recognizing both their commitments to the child being in school.

The Munch & More program will begin orientation for volunteers May 2 with the program beginning June 11 at Anson Elementary. The summer learning task force is set to hand out books at the Marshalltown YMCA/YWCA’s Healthy Kids Day April 27, and the group is also planning some activities for Summer Learning Day June 21.

“Each group has its own set of things going on all the time,” Upah said. “They all interconnect.”

Upah said the research the steering committee uses increasingly shows that attendance is an important aspect of school readiness. While Marshalltown benefits from already having some programs in place, it also faces steeper challenges, she said.

She hopes Smith’s support will help broaden the project’s scope so people can see its national importance, she said. The task forces need to work hard to ensure the program is making strides with each endeavor, building on itself incrementally.

“What we do matters,” she said. “There is no way to look up school readiness (Smith’s support) charges up the show.”