COLUMBIA – Hundreds of Columbia Public Schools students are given the opportunity to advance their reading skills through the Read Across Columbia initiative.
The initiative is led by the Heart of Missouri United Way and aims to help students who attend schools with the highest free and reduced lunch rates and the lowest third-class reading scores in the district.
The Heart of Missouri United Way will donate 2,600 books to first- and second-grade students during its presentation at Parkade Elementary School on Thursday at 7 p.m. 12:30. The books will be divided into 650 literacy sets with four books, a coupon for a free book at the Columbia Public Library and a library card program in each set.
Andrew Grabau, Heart of Missouri United Way president, said the goal of this program is to encourage students to read outside the classroom.
“The initiative is to deliver these books at grade level in the home, not only to promote advanced reading skills for first and second grade young scholars, but it is also to help promote reading skills and reading in the family,” Grabau said.
Grabau said this initiative was developed based on the approach United Way follows in looking at how community funds are invested to address societal solutions. He said local data shows a big difference in third-class reading scores within CPS based on race.
“For example, recently, 13% of our third-grade African American students attend Columbia Public Schools at a proficient or advanced level, while 55% of our white students study at that level,” Grabau said. “So we recognize that we as a society need to look at how to eliminate these differences.”
The Heart of Missouri United Way uses the Boone Indicators Dashboard (BID) to analyze local education, health, economic and housing data. BID is a joint research project with United Way, City of Columbia, Boone County and CPS.
Grabau said this database is crucial in helping United Way decide how best to help society.
“It allows us to look at areas with the greatest need,” Grabau said. “There is an equity analysis that we did a few years ago that really highlights some of the biggest differences in our society. And third grade reading is one of them. ”
Grabau said the initiative also focuses on consciously buying books that help young students thrive.
“Really good books that have related characters that focus on inclusion on themes that young researchers can identify with are really important in helping solve these challenges,” Grabau said.
This is the second year the Read Across Columbia initiative has donated books to CPS students. Grabau said he hopes the program can grow in the future so that all local students in need have the opportunity to advance in reading.
“Due to funding constraints, we have really limited that program to just five schools, but we hope to expand it to include all Title I schools so that we can reach as many children in our community as possible.”
Title I schools are those that have high percentages of students from low-income families. Alpha Hart Lewis, Benton, Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge and Parkade Elementary are the five CPS schools that will receive books from the initiative.
The Heart of Missouri United Way also receives support and funding from a number of local organizations, including the GP MADE Foundation and 3M. Former Missouri football head coach Gary Pinkel and his wife Missy Pinkel will be among those involved in the presentation Thursday.
Grabau said support from many local organizations is important to increase community awareness of reading skills among young students.
“It shows that here at Columbia, we are taking an approach to the whole community to ensure that our young scholars can succeed in school and be truly life-ready and successful,” Grabau said.