As parents we want nothing but for our children to be successful in life and without the essential skill of reading, we are setting our children up for failure. Research spanning 100 years teaches us that students who have not learned to read by the 3rd grade, are less likely to graduate from high school and less likely to attend post-secondary education.  Here in our community, nearly half of the children are behind before they even enter kindergarten. With amazing efforts from the United Way of the Black Hills and with the help ofJohn T. Vucurevich Foundation, these numbers can drastically be reduced. With over one hundred partners working together, our community can reach the overall goal of helping children reach reading proficiency by 3rd grade.

In 2014, the John T. Vucurevich Foundation granted funds to the United Way of the Black Hills to start work on the Rapid City Campaign for Grade Level Reading.  Planning started immediately based around three main pillars; School Readiness, Summer Learning Loss, and School Attendance, with parent engagement being an essential factor throughout.  With the guidelines established, programs for Rapid City families were developed to include: Baby’s First Book Bag, Young Readers One Book Program, and the Attendance Poster Contest.

Baby’s First Book Bag is a collection of reading materials and developmental guidelines to help explain the importance of early literacy in young children.

Young Readers One Book Program is a partnership with the South Dakota Humanities Council and their South Dakota Festival of Books where a children’s author, from the festival, is chosen and one of their books is given to all 2nd graders in the Black Hills area.

The Attendance Poster Contest involves each child in grades K-5 emphasizing the importance of attendance.  The students are asked to draw a picture that shows how they feel ‘every day counts’. Winners from each school are chosen and then five grand prize winners are chosen and given a tablet and books.

The United Way of the Black Hills announced in January 2018, it will expand their funds to include all of the Black Hills communities.  With the additional funding, a new direction to fulfill the needs of our community has begun. Several pilot programs are already being created and in the planning stages and will join the efforts of those already established programs.  Programs in the works include: Family Connections, Smarter Summer, and the use of Vroom.

Family Connections, whose pilot project started this Fall, is for a home visiting program that currently involves 4 principals, 11 teachers, and potentially 55 families.  This program is aimed at improving attendance, reading scores, parent engagement, and increasing academic scores overall.

Smarter Summer is a new program that will help close the gap on reading comprehension skills during the summer months. The United Way of the Black Hills is currently working with partners to help reduce summer learning regression. (More details coming soon! Follow Black Hills Reads on Facebook to learn more.)

Vroom is a website that offers educational activities and tips to incorporate into daily life that help give parents a sense of empowerment for raising bright children.

Our amazing community is coming together to make sure our children are reading proficiently by 3rd grade.  With the expansion of the Rapid City Campaign for Grade Level Reading into the new Black Hills Reads program, we can reduce the number of children who fall behind.  Children learn to read up until 3rd grade but read to learn after 3rd grade.

If you would like to get involved, community meetings are currently happening in Rapid City and the Northern Hills areas, with Southern Hills happening early in 2019.  To learn more and find ways to be involved, contact the United Way of the Black Hills at 605.343.5872 or join the Facebook group Black Hills Reads.

Written by Jessica McGoldrick
Photos courtesy of Black Hills Reads