LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- More than half of Lane County kids entering kindergarten fall below literacy benchmarks, and 30% of Lane County students starting school are at-risk for not being able to read and keep up with their peers. Students are assessed based on multiple abilities, like being able to recognize letters and the sounds letters make. These sobering statistics pushed United Way of Lane County to implement a program called Lane Promise Neighborhoods. The goal of the program is to help more kids be ready to start school and succeed thereafter.
"We should be seeing a decline in the number of kids who are at-risk to not learn to be able to read," said Tony Biglan, a scientist at Oregon Research Institute who works with the Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium nationally.
United Way selected two neighborhoods -- one in Bethel and one in Springfield -- to implement the pilot program in Lane County. Fairfield, Malabon, Brattain, and Maple Elementaries will all be part of this initial program. If the program is successful, organizers say they hope to extend Lane Promise Neighborhoods to the rest of the county.
Upcoming goals include making sure all kids have access to preschool and daycare, and teaching parents how they can help their child be a successful reader and student.
"We really got a sense of the potential excitement and the readiness. Parents really want to do well by their kids and give them every opportunity. So we want to be sure we have the resources and the support to do that," said Judy Newman, strategic advisor for Success by 6, a United Way program.
Organizers say they collected data on the literacy level for those schools. They will then use that data as a baseline to compare to upcoming school years and determine if the program is successful. Initial data showed the following:
Fairfield Elementary: 50% of students at-risk of not being able to read and keep up with peers
Malabon Elementary: 49% of students at-risk
Brattain Elementary: 56% of students at-risk
Maple Elementary: 52% of students at-risk
At Fairfield Elementary, assessments show that only 8% of students are on-track to read at a normal level. United Way is reaching out to private organizations, as well as state and federal money, to fund the project.
"One of the things the funding does is that concentration in a small area," said Bethel Superintendent Colt Gill. "So that we're not impacting one-out-of-ten children in that community in Springfield or in the Bethel area, but we're impacting ten-out-of-ten kids and turning the norms in a whole community around so that everybody, all the neighbors on that street, think the same way about parenting, and think the same way about the futures of their children, that they have the ability to go on to college and get a career with a family-wage job."
Organizers said the nuts and bolts of the program will change as they measure the effectiveness of the program. "I don't think we have a lot nailed down yet, but I'm pretty confident we're going to get the support we need to do the things that can make a difference," said Biglan.
If the program is successful, organizers say they want to extend the program to the rest of Lane County, but there is no certain timeline of when this could happen.