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Companies, nonprofits cooperating to help schools meet reading requirements

A kindergarten class at Prairie Hill Elementary in the College Community district works on...
A kindergarten class at Prairie Hill Elementary in the College Community district works on reading lessons.(KCRG)
Published: Mar. 4, 2016 at 5:18 PM CST
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More than 20 eastern Iowa organizations are coming together to help children become more proficient in reading by the end of third grade. It’s a cooperative effort called “Reading into Success.”

Under Iowa law, students who aren’t proficient in reading by the end of third grade next summer won’t automatically get promoted to 4th grade. Those students would have to go to a summer reading program with 70 hours of instruction to move on. The Iowa Department of Education estimates one in four third graders did not meet state standards for reading in 2014 and 2015.

Reading into Success is looking at what’s working in the four Cedar Rapids metro school districts and what outside organizations could contribute to help students learn to read better.

But organizers are also ready to offer new programs whether it’s instruction before or after school or even in the home.

One idea is to get kindergarteners off to a good start especially those who did not attend any preschool programs.

Laura Columbus, education initiatives coordinator for United Way of East Central Iowa, said one specific ideas getting kicked around is a so-called “kindergarten camp.”

“It would start three weeks prior to starting school (kindergarten) and kind of give those kids a boost to make sure they are on track for their first day of school,” Columbus said.

Columbus, who is coordinating the program through United Way, said other ideas getting a look are organizing teams of volunteers from the sponsoring companies and nonprofit groups to work with kids on reading.

And that help wouldn’t be confined to the classroom.

Karla Twedt-Ball, with the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, said the organizations involved have a stake in making sure kids in the Cedar Rapids metro school districts don’t fall short when it comes to reading proficiency.

“We’re interested in how we can grow our community. Helping kids succeed in school is a major component of that,” she said.

Several of those involved in the effort say partnerships between school districts and outside groups may become more common as the reading retention law looms in 2017.

Sue Skala, College Community elementary education director, said all schools would welcome assistance in making sure kids become better readers.

“There’s just never enough resources so when people want to get involved we’re more than happy to invite them into the school world and let them help us outside to the school day as well,” Skala said.

Organizers of the Reading into Success effort have set a community meeting for March 29, 2016 from 6:00 pm until 8:00 p.m. at the downtown Cedar Rapids Library. They hope to share some specific ideas then and narrow down exactly what the community sponsors will do to help schools.