We commend the Wichita Community Foundation for its Impact Literacy project, which was announced this month.
The Wichita Eagle and Kansas.com are proud participants in this project, but it was the Foundation that recognized the need and has strategically devoted resources to raise awareness and move our community forward.
A study commissioned by the Foundation and released in 2015 contained some stark realities about literacy in Wichita. The study quoted Kansas State Department of Education information that showed only 64 percent of third-graders in the Wichita school system were proficient in reading in 2013, noticeably worse than the state average of 80 percent.
Unfortunately, things have not improved. In 2016, still only 64 percent of the system’s third-graders were at grade level in reading. The state average was 77 percent. The numbers are even worse for Hispanic and African-American children, who fall into what is known as the “achievement gap.”
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Why is this important? Studies show that many children who are behind in reading at the end of third grade never catch up. The study commissioned by the Foundation quoted a report that found students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than those who are proficient readers.
“Why should I care?” some may ask, particularly if they don’t have children, their children are grown or their kids are doing well in school.
Here’s why we all should care: The ripple effects of illiteracy spread wide and deep into areas reflective of the health and vitality of our community.
The Foundation’s study said: “Strong literacy skills are closely linked to the probability of having a good job, decent earnings, and access to training opportunities. Individuals with weak literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed or, if employed, to be in jobs that pay little or offer poor hours or working conditions, increasing their chances of living in poverty.”
The Wichita Community Foundation has awarded $160,000 in grants for three year-long projects as part of Impact Literacy.
One grant will fund work by The Eagle and Kansas.com to report on issues and programs related to literacy, with an eye toward identifying solutions.
Another grant goes to Watermark Books & Cafe, which will work with the Wichita Police Department on a book distribution project for Wichita families.
The third grant will fund an expansion of the Wichita Public Library’s program called “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten.” The program will increase participation from 1,000 students to 7,500 students.
Leaders of the Foundation were wise to identify the importance of literacy and how it is tied to making Wichita a better place to live and work. We look forward to the success stories of Impact Literacy over the next year.