Dubuque organization requests funds to establish countywide summer reading program

Officials say the program could help students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic catch up on reading proficiency skills
A Dubuque organization is requesting $700,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to Dubuque County supervisors to create a countywide summer reading program.
Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 10:36 PM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque is requesting $700,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to Dubuque County supervisors to create a countywide summer reading program. The money will go towards actions like partnering different organizations and ensuring students have learning materials and transportation.

“We can really help identify how to build those connections so that kids are going from their morning reading session to their afternoon one seamlessly with the transition and identifying where can we build out additional capacity, where can we improve quality of teaching and get additional materials in there,” Alex Baum, the foundation’s director of initiatives, explained.

Officials with the CFGD said the idea behind the program is to help students who fell behind on reading proficiency because of the pandemic catch up.

“I think we will never truly know and understand the impact of the pandemic for years to come,” Lisa TeBockhorst, the Dubuque Community School District’s executive director of elementary education, said.

But what school officials do know now is the impact it had on reading proficiency levels. For example, the state test administered last school year shows only 44 percent of third graders in Dubuque are reading at grade level.

”Students were unable to make the same kinds of gains that we would typically see in a school year where they are meeting every single day for 90 minutes of English, Language, Arts instruction,” she added.

TeBockhorst said, as students have returned to normalcy, those numbers have gone up. She said, for example, elementary school students have grown their reading skills 55 percent so far this school year. However, she mentioned there are still gaps.

”If they are not quite there yet in third grade it is really important that we put everything in place to help facilitate that,” she added.

That is why the school district partnered with the CFGD to develop the idea for the countywide summer reading program.

“Anytime you have a group of people collectively and collaboratively working on behalf of kids, it is a win,” she said. “We are going to see positive results from that.”

Cynthia Wehrenberg, the CFGD’s youth impact coordinator, emphasized the importance of having students be reading proficiently by third grade, saying that is when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn.

“They need this to help close the gap that has been caused by the pandemic and it is going to take everybody in our community working together to be able to do that,” she added.

Wehrenberg said the program is also about ensuring students from underrepresented communities have access to summer reading programs.

“It is important to us that we give those students the same access, the same awareness, and the same easy of enrollment that their counterparts have,” she commented.

The foundation’s request to county supervisors asks for $200,000 per year for the next three years to coordinate the program. Foundation officials explained they would also give $50,000 each to St. Mark’s Youth Enrichment and the Dubuque Dream Center, two local organizations with whom they plan to partner on this and that already work towards addressing reading proficiency gaps.

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