Third grade is a benchmark year for students: it’s when they transition from learning to read into reading to learn. But, the groundwork for third grade success has to start as early as preschool. It’s why Trident United Way last year launched the Tri-County Reading by Third Project, a three-year pilot program designed to raise reading proficiency rates of children by the end of third grade. This project marks the first time all four Tri-County school districts have worked collaboratively on an initiative of this size.
Teachers from Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4 school districts are using an innovative teacher training through the Lastinger Center of the University of Florida. The districts selected the Lastinger Center based on its “train the trainer” model that allows teachers to train each other so they can then spread the effort into more classrooms.
About 110 educators throughout the four school districts received training last summer; Charleston County is focusing its efforts on pre-kindergarten students in eight schools and Berkeley County and Dorchester 2 and 4 are focusing on grades kindergarten through second grade in a total of eight schools.
Teachers who go through the training implement one-on-one instruction and teaching concepts that stress more manipulative letters and writing for reading. This word work differs from most methods in its focus on phonics, rather than a whole word approach. Approximately 1,100 students across all four school districts have already been impacted by the specialized one-one-one instruction.
In 2016, only 52 percent of third graders in the Tri-County area were proficient in third grade reading levels by the end of the school year. At third grade, children need those reading skills to progress in social studies, science and math word problems.
Children who are still struggling to read after third grade are more likely to fall behind in all areas of school. They will continue to struggle into high school and are more likely to drop out.
The impact is even more severe among children living in poverty. They often arrive in the kindergarten classroom having heard 30 million fewer words from caregivers than their peers from higher socioeconomic households.
One of Trident United Way’s community impact pillars is financial stability and that is directly related to education, says Kate Buckholz, director of education innovation. Reading by third grade is so important, she adds, as it has a snowball effect into the overall health of a community in terms of economic development and the ability to fill jobs.
“Large corporations are moving into our area but unfortunately are having a hard time filling roles with local candidates,” Buckholz says. “We want the entire Tri-County area to be the best place to live, work and raise a family, whether you are from here or move here. Your zip code should not determine your future success, though at present, in large part, it does.”
Trident United Way will give up to $1.5 million in grants over the next three years to local school districts, and now TUW is seeking donations to keep this program going. Already, they are hearing anecdotal stories about significant progress students are making – even in just a few short months.
How can you get involved?
You can make a difference by giving today. Invest in the Tri-County Reading by Third Project. You can help continue these specialized teacher trainings that assist Tri-County area students to achieve important reading benchmarks.