Bright Spots

Bright Spots Communities

Based on the success of Tell Our Story and the growing interest in what's happening in communities across the Grade-Level Reading Network, the Network Communities Support Center (NCSC) launched a weekly publication called Bright Spots. That name may sound familiar to you because it also happens to be the same language we used at the beginning of the Campaign to describe programs and schools that had a track record of success tackling the challenges of school readiness, school attendance, summer learning, and grade-level reading. What all of those Bright Spots had in common was that they offered evidence and inspiration that the difficult work of dramatically improving reading proficiency for low-income kids was not only ambitious, but also achievable and actionable.

At this stage of the Campaign, we thought it was only appropriate to re-purpose that title and use Bright Spots to capture the most inspiring and promising work that’s already underway in the more than 140 Grade-Level Reading communities in the Network. The purpose of these weekly Bright Spots is to promote peer exchange, peer networking, and peer learning by offering concise, yet meaningful articles about the specific actions taken by Network communities. We hope that you will use these stories to steal shamelessly and share seamlessly with your colleagues across the country.

Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase the work in Grade-Level Reading communities to achieve progress on school readiness, school attendance, summer learning and grade-level reading by 2016. For more information and to nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at

  • Phoenix, Arizona The Phoenix Public Library and the Arizona Literacy & Learning Center partnered to provide free reading screenings for kindergarten through third-grade students to identify and provide support for struggling readers early on.
  • The Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is working to address summer learning and summer hunger, reduce chronic absence, and  expand access to quality summer learning programs statewide. Fresno, California libraries serve a cold lunch every weekday from mid-June to early August and plan to broaden enrichment activities to include the sciences.
  • Los Angeles, California Vision To Learn provides elementary school children in the area with free eye exams and glasses, helping those who struggle to see become better readers.
  • Oakland, California used three school years worth of data to construct the Oakland Reads Baseline Report, which looks at school readiness, attendance, summer learning and parent engagement to help define Oakland’s challenges and develop strategies to increase the percentage of children reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Two workgroups are using the challenges identified in the 84-page report to create a “theory of action” and a road map with strategies.
  • Richmond, California West County Reads’ Take it, Leave it Bookshelf program puts about 10,000 books per year in locations frequented by low-income families, such as laundromats, barber shops and churches.
  • Sacramento, California successfully launched a chronic absence effort that aims to shift the conversation and the school system. Sacramento City Unified School District is now testing new strategies to reduce chronic absence, after gathering data to better understand and illustrate the issue.
  • San Francisco, California Fifty-thousand children from low-income families in the greater San Francisco Bay Area will benefit from summer reading programs thanks to a philanthropic initiative tied to Super Bowl 50. Learn more about The Re(a)d Zone here.
  • Stockton, California The area’s Reach Out and Read program reaches around 6,000 children who receive care in 12 public and private medical offices serving low-income families. The program also distributes 11,000 children’s books a year, including books written in Spanish and Asian languages from Khmer to Urdu that accommodate the area’s diverse population.
  • Tahoe Truckee, California The Neighborhood Summer Reading Program in Tahoe Truckee sponsors teachers’ visits to isolated mobile home parks during the summer to provide literacy activities and reading time.
  • Longmont, Colorado About 100 families were served in 2014 by two parent education programs that offer school readiness and support — Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors and Nurturing Parenting. The programs are expanding to serve 130 families.
  • Bridgeport, Connecticut offers Kick Off to Kindergarten, a free summer program designed to introduce literacy, numbers, group play and more to pre-K students in an effort to ensure all children are kindergarten-ready and able to read proficiently by the end of third grade.
  • Hartford, Connecticut's efforts to identify and address barriers to school attendance helped half of the city's public schools serving elementary students reduce chronic absence in 2014-2015 by at least 5 percent from the previous year. 
  • New Britain, Connecticut Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of chronically absent students plummeted in New Britain’s 10 elementary schools – for kindergartners, from 30 to 18 percent; first graders from 24 to 13 percent; second graders from 19 to 14; and third graders from 15 to 11 percent.
  • In Vernon, Connecticut the school district developed a plan to improve attendance at all seven of its schools, serving 3,500 students. The data driven strategies have reduced chronic absence, especially in kindergarten and the elementary grades. Also, their public library is one among the libraries in four Connecticut communities to receive a grant to develop a program combatting summer slide. In 2015, the third summer of  the “READy for the Grade” initiative, 150 children ages 5 to 8 participated across all four communities.
  • Delray Beach, Florida To assess the extent of summer learning loss, the city’s Grade-Level Reading coalition developed a data sharing agreement between the city and the county school district. Delray Beach also supported development of literacy-rich summer learning programs.
  • Sarasota, Florida Third grade reading proficiency at Alta Vista Elementary jumped more than 35 percent in 2014 as a result of collective effort led by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The Patterson Foundation, based in Sarasota, is among more than 25 organizations partnering on the community’s grade-level reading campaign, which is focused on addressing school readiness and summer learning loss.
  • Tampa, Florida The Summer Care program began as an effort to bolster low-income families’ financial stability. Now, it  works to help  those families’ children improve their reading proficiency over the summer.
  • Vero Beach, Florida Teachers in Indian River County are not only learning new ways to teach reading to students with dyslexia, they are also using the same approach to improve how they teach all students to read. Vero Beach is also promoting Moonshot Moment, an early literacy campaign to have 90 percent of children reading on grade level by the end of third grade in 2018.

  • Get Georgia Reading The statewide grade-level reading campaign coordinated efforts to provide free meals and literacy activities in local libraries to children in 22 counties.
  • Waukegan, Illinois: Partners in this 2014 Pacesetter community developed a full-day summer learning program—available to hundreds of young children—by combining two already available part-day offerings.
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana Let’s Talk®, an oral language development initiative in Fort Wayne, works to increase the quantity and quality of conversations between young children and their parents or caregivers in order to boost early learning and school readiness.
  • Ames, Iowa offers free, one-on-one individualized tutoring during the summer to young struggling readers, provided by community volunteers trained by literacy development expert Donald Bear. Reading Buddies reaches about 150 children in kindergarten through fourth grade.
  • Council Bluffs, Iowa combines school attendance and readiness strategies through teacher home visits to preschoolers.
  • Dubuque, Iowa has earned some early GLR successes because its campaign was embedded into a longstanding cradle-to-career initiative, providing some important organizational fundamentals including an informed community engaged in improving children’s prospects; strong leadership within a well-functioning network; and data-gathering prowess.
  • Quad Cities, Iowa/Illinois The free, six-week Summer Enrichment Program in Quad Cities served 295 elementary school-age children from low-income families in 2014, increasing literacy scores by an average of 9.3 percentage points, and their unique data warehouse helps identify and solve issues around early literacy.
  • Marshalltown, Iowa is boosting school readiness and attendance among young children from low-income families, using the Perfectly Punctual Campaign. The community was recognized as a 2014 Pacesetter after its number of school-ready kindergarteners increased from 25 to 32 percent between 2011-12 and 2013-14.
  • Topeka, Kansas  A unique community partnership including the Topeka Housing Authority provides  free public school preschool to children from low-income families— in the public housing complex where most live. The first graduates went from scoring as low as the 20th percentile on a pre-K literacy assessment to scoring above the 80th percentile.  A summer program was added in 2014.
  • Baltimore, Maryland Raising a Reader (RAR), in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools and Head Start programs, will provide books and family reading strategies to more than 11,000 Baltimore-area children. Funding from Target Corporation allowed RAR to expand its nationally successful literacy program to Baltimore.
  • Holyoke, Massachusetts saw attendance for elementary school students increase after creating attendance teams and offering district- and schoolwide incentives to reduce chronic absence.
  • Pittsfield, Massachusetts Pittsfield Promise, an early childhood literacy initiative linked to the community’s grade-level reading campaign, plans to measure the before-and-after impact of new summer literacy programs in the area and aims to raise the percentage of third graders reading proficiently from 44 percent in 2012 to 90 percent by 2020.
  • Springfield, Massachusetts: This 2014 Pacesetter community is reaching more than 300 children and their parents through Talk/Read/Succeed!, an early literacy effort that works directly with families living in public housing to address their needs.
  • Worcester, Massachusetts Four public elementary schools that had no or limited library facilities due to long-ago budget issues will each house a children’s services branch of the Worcester Public Library. Two have opened since fall 2013. The other two are slated for spring.
  • Kent County, Michigan uses Kent School Services Network, a community school initiative that places providers such as community school coordinators and behavioral health clinicians in the county’s highest-poverty schools to decrease chronic absenteeism and help students and their families succeed. Also in Kent County, thanks to strong support from  the faith community,  more than 1,200 students in this Grade-Level Reading community will attend a summer learning academy in 2015, more than a third of whom are preschool and early elementary children.
  • Gulfport, Mississippi Undeterred by a lack of government funds and school space, South Mississippi PreK4Ward uses private donations and creative locations to provide free full-day prekindergarten to 132 children across two counties. PreK4Ward serves primarily low-income families, serving families eligible for Head Start or that just miss eligibility. 
  • Kansas City, Missouri In 2015, free summer learning programs will be available for nearly 16,000 children in 20 elementary schools and other sites in the Kansas City Public Schools—more than twice the 2014 enrollment.
  • Las Vegas, Nevada hopes to expand its pilot program to reduce chronic absence among at-risk students. Begun at one elementary school, the pilot reduced chronic absence among three student populations with a disproportionately high number of chronically-absent students.
  • Reno, Nevada Signs posted on Born Learning Trails in Reno offer learning activities families can engage in to boost their child’s development while enjoying the outdoors. The trails have also helped to involve community volunteers in boosting early literacy, school readiness and physical activity.
  • Camden, New Jersey Camden’s Grade-Level Reading Campaign, Born to Read, has launched a volunteer-based one-on-one reading program for preschoolers as part of its multi-faceted early literacy initiative.
  • Paterson, New Jersey Paterson’s School No. 5, which serves mostly low-income and ELL students, saw its number of chronically absent students drop by 76 percent last year. The school’s “Success Mentor” program and other strategies developed by GLR partner Attendance Works contributed to the swift progress.
  • Buffalo, New York is a site of the Parent-Child Home Program, which provides two years of intensive, twice-weekly home visits to under-resourced families with children between age 16 months and 4 years. Early literacy specialists provide dialogue to promote language development, cognitive skills and social competencies that help children enter school with the skills to be successful.
  • Syracuse, New York has used Imagination Library to distribute more than 50,000 books since 2010 and serve 3,000 children, many from low-income and refugee families. An evaluation showed families in the program were more likely to read to their children.
  • New York, New York New York City’s Once Upon a Summer program provides opportunities for summer learning and extended learning for children in the area’s poorest neighborhoods.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina A coalition led by The Belk Foundation successfully launched Read Charlotte in February 2015, rebooting the community’s grade-level reading campaign. Read Charlotte is a $5.5 million initiative to double the percentage of Charlotte third graders reading proficiently by 2025.
  • Southern Pines, North Carolina ratcheted up its literacy work in 2013 by creating a new summer learning project tailored to kindergarten through second-grade students reading below grade level.
  • Wake County, North Carolina Wake County’s Grade-Level Reading Campaign, WAKE Up and Read, collected almost 70,000 books in a spring book drive to help disadvantaged children build their literacy skills before reaching kindergarten.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio identifies and treats mothers with depression through Every Child Succeeds, a home visiting effort to foster more nurturing and stimulating interactions with their children and increase school readiness.
  • Dayton, Ohio More than 800 high-risk students in two summer programs made significant strides in literacy and reading. The programs, operated by Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) and Freedom Schools, were part of a community effort to expand summer learning options led by Learn to Earn Dayton/ReadySetSoar.
  • Eugene, Oregon is promoting school readiness with a summer program for children entering kindergarten and their parents. Kids in Transition to School focuses on literacy, self-regulation and social skills.
  • Wallowa County, Oregon is home to a partnership between two local nonprofits—a rural health center and a family support organization – that work together at the health center to promote healthy development, early literacy and school readiness for young children.
  • Berks County, Pennsylvania: Hundreds of parents receive short videos modeling fun and easy literacy and math activities for young children through ReadyRosie, an online parent engagement tool.
  • Providence, Rhode Island schools enlist City Year volunteers to work one-on-one with students who have a history of chronic absence to set goals and make a plan to boost their attendance.
  • Richland County, South Carolina The Richland Library hosts a number of events during the summer months and throughout the school year that support early learning, family literacy and, ultimately, grade-level reading and success in school and beyond.
  • Austin, Texas worked to collect data to determine demand for summer learning programs, and leadership groups are now discussing better ways to align their work and make these programs accessible to all children in the area, regardless of family income.
  • Houston, Texas Five hundred students in 15 Houston-area elementary schools participate in a peer-to-peer reading tutoring program that matches trained fourth- and fifth-grade tutors with second- and third-grade tutees. The program is supported by United Way of Greater Houston, a member of the local grade-level reading coalition.
  • Palacios, Texas, a small rural community where most children are in poverty and nearly a third have English language barriers, has taken a community approach to addressing local challenges. The Palacios Community Hub, a community learning center,  supports national programs like First Book and Reach Out and Read that engage children and parents in early literacy activities.
  • San Antonio, Texas serves 187 4-year-olds in a Dual Language Head Start program that uses a “two-way” model, with each class half Spanish-speakers learning English and half English-speakers learning Spanish. Instruction is 90 percent in Spanish, 10 percent in English, and enables both groups to pick up each other’s language and culture.
  • Richmond, Virginia is among communities across the country benefiting from Dollar General Youth Literacy Grants made to schools, libraries and nonprofits to help young struggling readers. An elementary school used a $3,000 grant to create a "leveled" library of books meeting varying ability levels and  used with small groups of students who need extra help.
  • Roanoke, Virginia is engaging both schools and libraries in a data-driven approach to boost third grade reading proficiency using the Results Scorecard.
  • Bellevue, Washington: A free summer learning program has doubled to serve about 1,000 young struggling readers thanks to a broad cradle-to-career community initiative that successfully marries the StriveTogether collective impact approach with Grade-Level Reading Campaign content. Bellevue's partners include the school district, city and more than 45 community groups.
  • Seattle, Washington is working to engage families in summer reading efforts through the area’s “Let’s Read!” campaign. Let’s Read! convenes community planning meetings to strategize ways to support low-income children and families during the summer, distributes books to children and libraries in the region and supports K-2nd grade students in 52 “high-need” elementary schools in seven local school districts.
  • Tacoma, Washington is among many communities nationwide celebrating Read Across America Day on March 2, sponsored by the National Education Association.  Tacoma's community celebration -- including 16 events in schools and libraries, some scheduled the Saturday before March 2 -- will reach about 2,000 children, over twice as many as last year.

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