Mississippi leaders seek community effort to improve reading

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — State officials and nonprofits called Tuesday on Mississippi communities to band together to improve young students' reading performance.

The groups announced that Mississippi would join the Campaign for Grade Level Reading on a statewide basis. The idea is that businesses, volunteers and donors will work cooperatively to help children.

"We know that far too many of our low income young people show up to school not fully ready to take advantage of what school has to offer, they miss too much school in the early grades, and they experience too much of a setback in the summer months," said Ron Fairchild, director of the Grade Level Reading Support Center.

Gulfport and Oxford are already members of the nationwide campaign, which has community affiliates in 285 locations nationwide. Mississippi becomes the seventh state to join statewide.

Mississippi requires all third grade public school students to read at a basic level to advance to fourth grade. Requirements are scheduled to go up in 2019, meaning students now in first grade will have to meet the higher scoring standards. Thirty-five percent of third-graders would have failed the higher bar last spring, compared with the roughly 8 percent who failed at the current level.

The Meridian-based Phil Hardin Foundation and other philanthropic groups will offer up to $300,000 in grants over three years to fund local efforts. Communities would have to apply, presenting a plan, a leader, groups that will help and a way to measure progress.

Ashley Sheils, who will direct the state program , said she's in talks about setting up 10 more community affiliates, including in Clarksdale and Jackson. She said officials could build on communities that joined the Excel by 5 program, which aims to improve kindergarten readiness. There are currently 25 Excel by 5 communities across Mississippi, with 15 more candidates.

The Gulfport affiliate has been recognized for its efforts , which include increasing preschool opportunities for 4-year-olds.

Cindy Walker, CEO of United Way of South Mississippi, said the effort has helped create greater cooperation.

"It has brought together all those folks that used to work in silos," Walker said.

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Online: Campaign for Grade Level Reading: http://bit.ly/2gGGWUm

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/Jeff%20Amy.


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