Atlanta, GA

Atlanta Makes The Grade

Spearheaded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Atlanta is also a participating community in the National and State level Grade-Level Reading Campaign. United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) are co-leading Atlanta’s efforts to support third grade reading proficiency by focusing on three solution areas; school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning. This Campaign aligns with United Way’s focus on supporting and providing wrap-around services to children and their families, specifically in the pipeline’s segments of school readiness and early grade literacy.

The United Way of Greater Atlanta and GEEARS: The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, joined together to convene a planning committee of stakeholders to partner on a shared goal of ensuring that all of Atlanta’s children are on a path to read to learn by the end of 3rd grade. As a critical focus area, United Way works to develop and implement local and regional strategies that engage all segments of our community to drive sustainable change in education. The primary goal is to ensure that children enter school ready to learn, avoid risky behaviors, and graduate prepared for college and a career by supporting an insulated pipeline of services for children birth to age twenty-one. GEEARS is working with policymakers, the philanthropic and business communities and with advocates across the state to build a movement for quality early education in Georgia.

Which barriers have proven most challenging?

Atlanta is currently struggling with, among other challenges, higher unemployment rates than the nation as a whole and a public school system tainted by a testing cheating scandal. Our NAEP scores and high school graduation rates paint a picture that shows us that we may be one of the most educated and least educated cities all at the same time. If we do not intervene with a coordinated plan to make sure our children get a strong start and are reading at grade level by the end of third grade, we risk increasing the education gap and deepening the economic difficulties of our city.

A key challenge in this work is solidifying the coordination of existing partnerships and organizations with shared service goals in order to “move the needle” against the real problem of low reading proficiency in the City of Atlanta. In a coordinating effort that is unprecedented in Atlanta, we have reached out across educational boundaries to include civic leadership, local businesses, community non-profits, and faith-based organizations, as well as existing partnerships and a state-level campaign to face literacy challenges. This coordination of shared services holds real potential to, not only make a difference in next year’s reading test scores, but more importantly, to change our discouraging trend line and to offer children the gift of a lifetime of literacy.

What is working?

To address the coordination efforts, United Way of Greater Atlanta facilitated the formation of a coordinating body, the Ready by 21 Leadership Council, which aligns a collaborative network of organizations that share the mission of improving outcomes for children, youth and their families. Under the leadership of Brad Bryant, Executive Director of the Georgia Foundation for Public Education at the Georgia Department of Education, and Mike Romesberg, Manager of Workforce Development at CVS Caremark Corp, this collaborative is utilizing the framework developed by The Forum for Youth Investment to provide children and their families with the support they need along the education continuum from birth until twenty-one years of age. The Ready by 21 Leadership Council now serves as a central hub of strategic alliances and partnerships that can bring together the best service providers to execute evidence based strategies that focus on school readiness, early grade reading, successful middle school transition, high school graduation and college/advanced training.

What have you accomplished?


All-American City Award/ Grade-Level Reading Submission: In submission for an All-America City Award, United Way and GEEARS co-authored the Community Solutions Action Plan (CSAP) for Atlanta. Information and insight gathered from a wide variety of community partners during a two day retreat which served as the basis for Atlanta’s initial CSAP and beginning efforts to organize around the lack of reading proficiency by 3rd grade. Through that process, Atlanta was recognized as a Pacesetter in the area of School Readiness.

Summer 2011

Early Reading First Summer Learning Transition Academy

Aligned with the state Campaign for Grade-Level Reading project, spear-headed by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the United Way of Greater Atlanta implemented a school readiness and transition pilot project in one childcare center for rising Kindergarten students at one Early Reading First site, located in the City of Atlanta. Using the Response and Recognition Model (Response to Intervention for Pre-K), the pilot project served four classrooms in the center’s GA Pre-K program. With a focus on school readiness, the goal was to build upon the best practices and lessons learning through Early Reading First to support students in their transition to Pre-K. We also wanted to reinforce the sustainable practices learned through Early Reading First through providing peer led professional learning opportunities for teachers continuing the Recognition and Response Model and progress monitoring tools beyond the pilot and into the next school year.

Summer 2012

Summer Learning Transition Academy at Dunleith Elementary School

In the summer of 2012, United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered for the second year with Marietta City Schools to implement a summer learning transition academy for rising first through third graders. The program built on the success and lessons learned from the summer 2011 program. As a result of the collaboration, ninety children were invited to participate in a four week learning opportunity designed to specifically focus on word fluency and comprehension.

Students Optimally Accelerating and Reaching for the Stars (SOARS)

In the summer of 2012, a group of partners convened around a common goal and created and implemented an intense and targeted summer learning opportunity designed to increase the reading proficiency of struggling readers at one local elementary school, M. Agnes Jones Elementary School located in the Atlanta Promise Neighborhood. This model was based on previous Grade Level Reading Campaign work from the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the Savannah Chatham County schools. United Way of Greater Atlanta invested over $190,000 for teacher salaries, family engagement supplies, and all curricula materials for the program. In the spirit of sustainability, United Way of Greater Atlanta in partnership with the Atlanta Speech School extended professional development for teachers at M. Agnes Jones and Bethune elementary schools for the school year.


National Webinar Presentation

As part of the resources/technical support offered by the National Grade-Level Reading Campaign, a series of webinars is offered covering a variety of topics related to organizing and leading a success campaign focused on reading proficiency by 3rd grade. United Way was asked to represent Atlanta during the Driving with Data webinar series and offered a case study review of data sharing and working with an MOU. We are also scheduled to participate in the School Readiness webinar in December.

Grade-Level Reading Community Solution Action Plan (CSAP)

In partnership with GEEARS, United Way co-lead the revision of Atlanta’s Community Solutions Action Plan (CSAP) for submission to the National GLR Campaign’s Funders Registry. As part of that process, United Way co-hosted Atlanta’s Grade-Level Reading consultant for a series of conversations and discussions with community partners, including the shared decision of a group logo representing our community.

9th Annual National Summer Learning Association National Conference

United Way of Greater Atlanta presented alongside our partners at the Atlanta Speech School on the summer learning work. The workshop was entitled “The Story of the Little Neighborhood That Could: Building Partnerships and Capacity in Summer Learning” and focused on working collaboratively within a community around a common goal. The workshop was an example of how Atlanta worked within its community and local school district, in cooperation with Georgia’s Grade-Level Reading campaign and Annie E. Casey’s summer learning initiative to create a focused and intensive summer intervention for students at risk of not reading on grade level by the end of third grade.

Professional Learning Community

In an effort to better support out of school time providers and the larger goal of 3rd grade reading proficiency, United Way of Greater Atlanta convened key partners to participate in a professional learning community focused on summer learning. The goal is to share best practices in providing high quality summer learning opportunities for rising kindergarten through 3rd grade children and utilize the national resources such as the Grade-Level Reading Campaign, Attendance Works, and the National Summer Learning Association.

Mayor Reed’s Cities of Service Award - Third Grade Reads

United Way of Greater Atlanta is supporting the efforts of the Mayor’s office by partnering with Everybody Wins! to recruit, train, and place 270 volunteers in K-3rd grade classrooms. United Way is specifically focused on Bethune Elementary School, a school located in the Washington High School feeder pattern and the Atlanta Promise Neighborhood.

Summer 2013

Students Optimally Accelerating and Reaching for the Stars (SOARS):

For the summer 2013, the SOARS program was held at Bethune Elementary School located in the Atlanta Promise Neighborhood. In an effort to implement best practices from lessons learned last summer, United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning and the YMCA to assist families in utilizing the Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) funding for aftercare for their children participating in the summer learning program.

The Mayor’s Summer Reading Book Club for Early Learners

The book club is a new program for all children ages birth to eight and their families that takes place in locations throughout the summer in the city of Atlanta. The book club will utilizes public-private partnerships to improve vocabulary and literacy skills of children ages birth through eight in Atlanta, get high-quality books into the homes of children in Atlanta who will benefit most, and give parents practical tools to help their children become early learners. The goals are to engage the community in encouraging our youngest children to continue reading and learning during the summer, to encourage families to instill literacy as a core value in the home and increase family awareness of the importance of reading with their children every day.

What have been the biggest surprises? Disappointments?

Through the partnership with Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning we have learned several families that are eligible for Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) funding for aftercare for their children participating in the summer learning program are not utilizing it.

Have there been any unexpected benefits? Costs?

The Atlanta Promise Neighborhood is an innovative partnership and illustrates Atlanta’s ability to develop a long-term plan focusing on a specific geographic area. Atlanta Promise Neighborhood is an already-established, six-square mile area as a starting place for this intensive work around grade-level reading proficiency. Through our focused work and partnerships, United Way of Greater Atlanta along with our partners offering a continuum of solutions that are focused on providing a safe, nurturing environment to help change the educational, health, and social development outcomes for children and their families living on Atlanta’s west side.

What have you learned?

There is power in collective impact.

What's the biggest take away?

Atlanta Makes the Grade has aligned our networks of passionate and dedicated leaders to seriously address the problem of low reading proficiency. As the city continues to tackle the challenge of universal literacy and partner with other community players, we look forward to continuing this important work to increase the reading proficiency of students to read on or above grade level by the end of third grade.

You need to be a member of The Huddle to add comments!

Join The Huddle


  • Excellent efforts towards coordinating shared services among organizations with shared missions of improving the lives of Atlanta's children!

    Kim Scott (Literacy Powerline and Campaign consultant)

  • Lots going on in Atlanta - thanks for sharing.  Interesting report, including that several CAPS-eligible families aren't participating. I look forward to talking soon to introduce myself, learn more, and connect you with others in the Network.

    Betsy (manager of the Campaign's soon-to-be-launched online Community Solutions Accelerator, which builds upon the NING!)

This reply was deleted.