On August 22, 2013, one of our high school seniors welcomed and introduced President Barack Obama to the audience assembled in Henninger High School in upstate New York’s City of Syracuse. The President talked about access to affordable education. "You have declared that no child in the city of Syracuse should miss out on an education because they can't pay for it," he declared. "We're hoping other cities follow your example." He also lauded our dynamic School Superintendent, Sharon Contreras, whose ambitious and challenging manifesto, "Great Expectations 2012-2017" is a commitment to making a long-term, collective investment in our students and their future. He praised the 'Say Yes to Education’ college tuition program which provides financial access to a post-secondary education. It was a proud moment in Syracuse.
We realize that these efforts will only realize their full potential if we as a community focus on the challenges that undermine school success and high school graduation. As Charter Members of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, we have adopted a collective impact strategy that targets the most important predictor of school success and high school graduation: grade level reading by the end of third grade. As the lead for Syracuse’s efforts, the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County (LCOC) continues to engage the community in the areas of school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning.
Our Coalition of business, community, civic and school leaders has brought us together, as a collaborative and across disciplines to face our challenges and focus our strategies toward measurable outcomes to success for the children and parents in our community.
Some of our challenges and accomplishments follow:
As the centerpiece of an early childhood focus that is targeted and measurable, the LCOC sponsors Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library as a program that not only provides free books to children but also establishes a central data system through which collaborating partners strategize and mark their progress toward shared outcomes about parents reading to their children daily from birth as an indicator of kindergarten readiness.
These efforts led to the LCOC being designated as an “Innovator Creating Change in Central New York” in the Syracuse Post-Standard’s 2013 Progress Edition. We’re very proud that the first peer-reviewed article researched and written by professors from LeMoyne College based on our local Imagination Library Program has been accepted for publication in the journal Reading Psychology, making it the first publication in an academic journal of empirical research about the impact of this program. In addition our local research has been presented at several national conferences.
The LCOC also announced Round Three of our Literacy Champion Grants on Read Across America Day. Programs were awarded based on their high quality family literacy programming that leverages the impact of Imagination Library books being delivered to the homes and help us conduct on-going research that will improve the analysis of our work. Nine awards (ranging from $1,000 to $9,500) were made to eight local organizations, bringing to a total of $150,000 awarded over three years. In the 2013-2014 program year we plan to offer, for the first time, professional development opportunities for our adult education and family literacy providers to encourage programs to provide a strengths based approach to the parents enrolled as we recognize them as the first and most important teacher of their children!
These efforts would not be possible without our partnerships with a number of extraordinary organizations that provide quality early childhood educational support, advocacy and services in our community, such as the Alliance for Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS), Catholic Charities, Child Care Solutions, Children’s Consortium, Onondaga County Dept. of Health, Onondaga County Public Library, P.E.A.C.E., Inc./Head Start, Salvation Army, SCSD Pre-K Program; United Way of Central New York/Success By 6, and West Side Learning Center’s MANOS Dual-Language Program. As an important component our dual-generation strategy, we work closely and coordinate efforts with the adult education providers in our community as well through a monthly Adult Education Roundtable held at ProLiteracy's Ruth J. Colvin Center for Innovation and Excellence in Adult Literacy.
We also have quite the opportunity this year, as the Onondaga Citizens League (OCL) has also chosen early childhood education as the topic of its yearlong study. Founded in 1978, OCL encourages a county-wide discussion through yearly studies, and joins us this year towards the shared goal of more effectively deploying resources so all children enter school ready to learn. Our challenge is to ultimately develop a coordinated pipeline of programs and services that support children and their families.
In May, disruptions in Syracuse schools led to a public debate over discipline and suspensions. While some were calling for a more aggressive approach to discipline, a national study highlighted Syracuse’s relatively high and racially skewed suspension rates. Against this backdrop, local attendance data has been researched and plans for district-wide intervention strategies are being developed. Discussions have also taken place with Hedy Chang of Attendance Works. The handouts, toolkit and posters have been distributed as well. While local activities for September’s Attendance Awareness Month are being coordinated and planned with the Syracuse City School District, a better understanding of the impact of chronic absence has already taken place. It is also hoped that we can enlist our Superintendent to sign up for the Call to Action, jointly sponsored by Attendance Works and the GLR Campaign.
Summer Learning Loss:
To raise awareness about summer learning loss, the LCOC organized a press event with the Onondaga County Public Library to celebrate Summer Learning Day. The event took place on Friday, June 21st and was also the kick-off of the Onondaga County Public Library’s Summer Reading Program which featured a guest appearance by Clifford the Big Red Dog, followed by a magic show for the kids. We were also joined by U.S. Congressman Dan Maffei and many of our local partners. New York State Senator John DeFrancisco taped a summer reading PSA for us as well.
For the fifth straight year, the Syracuse City School District and Say Yes to Education teamed up to run a summer camp at eight city schools with almost 3,000 children participating from across the district . The camp runs from 8 am to 2 pm at some schools and 9 am to 3pm at others. The first three hours are devoted to instruction by city teachers in English language arts and math. Then, Say Yes takes over, teaming with community partners like the YMCA and the Westcott Community Center to provide classes in the arts, fashion design, sports and other areas. At Ed Smith School, 500 children signed up for the program this year, along with 15 district teachers and 32 Say Yes “youth enrichment specialist” – many of them college students or recent graduates who received Say Yes scholarships.
Over the years, the Syracuse University Literacy Corps, a reciprocal learning experience in which SU students gain first-hand experience working as tutors in area schools, has been a key player in our area schools. The SU Literacy Corps also coordinates local efforts with First Book.
The LCOC also helped the Mayor of Syracuse, Stephanie Miner, with the celebration of the third annual Mayor Miner’s All Stars Summer Reading Challenge. Students who enrolled in the city school district’s Say Yes summer school program at eight elementary schools competed for the most minutes spent reading during camp. It was fun, it encouraged reading, it connected our Mayor and children of the city in a robust summer experience.
Community Data Sharing:
An unprecedented Community Data Sharing model centered on kindergarten readiness and school success was recently launched by the Literacy Coalition with funding from the American Sociological Association’s Sydney S. Spivak program in Applied Social Research and Social Policy Community Action Research Award. This project is a real team effort with local partners: governments, higher education institutions, Say Yes to Education and the Syracuse City School District. During our first session, each of the Data Providers offered guided “tours” of their databases and the types of data stored within them. After a lunch presentation by the Children's Institute of Rochester, a networking session was held to share ideas for collaborative evaluation and specific research questions to pursue. Subsequent meetings and discussions through the LCOC Measurement Action Team are on-going. Stay tuned, much more to come!
Our Next Chapter:
Going forward, we are targeted, ready and realistic about the challenges before us. Our planning and work toward 100% Literacy through 100% Community Engagement has now taken root in Syracuse and Onondaga County. We truly believe the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has re-energized our efforts and provided a much needed framework for community engagement. We very much appreciate the assistance of the Network Communities Support Center and, in particular, value the support and guidance of Kimberly Scott from Literacy Powerline. Ultimately, as we continue to develop and implement our solutions to school readiness, chronic absence and summer learning loss, we look within our community and our partners as well as to the leadership of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to help us learn how to use our community resources wisely, seek new resources to grow our efforts and strengthen our connections with the business community.