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the LANGUAGE & LITERACY issue FA L L / W I N T E R 2 0 1 0 N E W S L E T T E R

2 National Expert

Overcoming Obstacles to Grade Level Reading

3 Making Connections &

A Message from CEO Rhonda H. Lauer

What’s Inside:

Foundations, Inc.

4 Attendance Matters 5 Seamless Learning 6 Health and Nutrition: Essential Elements of Reading Readiness

7 Every Day, Everywhere: Literacy for Life

8 Spotlight on Professional Development

10 It Takes a Village... to Teach a Child How to Read

Reading for Life: A Multidisciplinary Approach

see pg. 5

Dear Colleagues, Supporters, and Friends, Foundations was founded nearly twenty years ago in response to the emerging realization that the traditional school day was simply not long enough. To learn to read and do math at grade level, children needed more time and extra support. In the United States today, too many of our students still struggle with reading: 68% of 4th grade public school students are less than proficient readers1. Studies show that children who do not read at grade level by 3rd grade are unlikely to graduate from high school, and high school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, single parents, on welfare, or in prison. This issue of Focus on Foundations is dedicated to literacy. In the articles that follow, we discuss obstacles to achieving reading milestones, offer suggestions for overcoming them, and provide examples from our work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others, which we hope will inspire our readers to take action in the upcoming academic year. It’s no secret that we need to improve school-day learning; teachers and schools must provide students with high-quality literacy instruction tailored to their specific needs. But the challenges that disadvantaged children and youth face are frequently more than academic; they include poor health, language barriers, chronic absence, and parental disengagement. By 7 am, some children have encountered so many obstacles to learning that just showing up at school is itself an accomplishment. cont. pg. 2

Overcoming Obstacles... cont. from pg. 1 Together with our partners, Foundations has taken on the Grade Level Reading Challenge. Low-income students, many of them minorities or English language learners, have less of everything – less adult involvement, fewer books, less access to healthcare. They need and deserve more from all of us. To read at grade level, they need more learning time – in the summer, early mornings, weekends, after school. To be present, engaged, and ready to learn, they need more community participation – perhaps an adult neighbor to drive them to school or a free medical clinic.

Photo: Raymond W. Holman, Jr. Photography

As you will read in this issue, helping our most vulnerable children requires creativity and dedication, attentiveness and insight. Above all, we must remember that children from low-income families are just as diverse as their higher income peers – in language, culture, religion, personalities, and aptitudes. We must work with them one by one, day by day, to help them learn to read for school and for life. Join us in this important work. The rewards are immeasurable. Warmest regards,

Rhonda H. Lauer President and Chief Executive Officer Foundations, Inc. 1

U.S. Department of Education, National Assessment of Education Progress 2009.

National Expert Foundations’ President and CEO Rhonda H. Lauer is committed to helping children across the country learn to read early and learn to read well. Her passion and dedication inspire individuals in every sector – education, government, business, community – to direct their collective resources toward solving the nation’s childhood literacy crisis. Ms. Lauer frequently participates in national discussions about early literacy and grade level reading. Most recently, she expressed her views in the May 21st online edition of Education Week. In her commentary, Reading: More Than an Academic Issue, Ms. Lauer addresses the numerous factors that can inhibit literacy achievement, including poverty, chronic absenteeism, and inadequate healthcare.




“One thing I’ve learned is that we won’t help our children read at grade level by placing all the responsibility on schools and school districts, legislators and education departments,” explains Ms. Lauer. “Teaching a child to read is not the job of the teacher alone. We need to mobilize everyone – communities, volunteers, parents – if we want to move that grade level needle.” Ms. Lauer is a member of the national Time, Learning, and Afterschool Taskforce, supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The taskforce’s report, A New Day for Learning, calls for a redesign of the nation’s educational system, extended learning time, and ongoing community involvement. She has served twice as keynote speaker at the New Day for Learning Institute,

a two-day conference held in Charleston, South Carolina. A forerunner of the grade level reading movement, Foundations has flourished under Ms. Lauer’s guidance and is a nationally recognized authority for organizations seeking to expand learning and literacy opportunities among underserved populations.

Visit Rhonda H. Lauer’s Reading for Life series at


Making Connections & Foundations, Inc. Making Connections is the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s decade-long effort to improve outcomes for children living in tough neighborhoods. For the past three years, Foundations has been working year-round to improve grade level reading at the eight Making Connections sites across the country. cont. pg. 4

Photo: Stefanie Felix Photography

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Making Connections & Foundations, Inc. cont. from pg. 3

Why are so many students missing so much school? And what can we do to change this?

Attendance Matters Kim Nguyen is a literacy coach at Mount View Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, a Making Connections site since 1999. Earlier this year, the family of two young Mount View students fell on hard times and moved to a shelter in a Seattle suburb. The sisters, who are English language learners, could not receive the instructional support they needed at their new school. Kim located a home for the family in the area, so the girls could attend Mount View and continue to progress in literacy. Kim assisted them again during summer school, when formal transportation is not provided; to minimize their summer learning loss, she drove them back and forth herself. Each year, one in ten kindergartners and first graders miss 10% or more of school. That’s a month of lost learning time with a potentially devastating effect: many of them are from our nation’s poorest families, and poor children who are chronically absent in kindergarten are among the lowest achievers by 5th grade.1 Why are so many students missing so much school? And what can we do to change this? There is no one reason why children miss school. Just as each child is unique, each reason is unique. And low-income students encounter many obstacles to regular school attendance that their higher income peers do not. Perhaps mom is sick, the neighborhood bus stop is too dangerous, or transportation is unreliable, as it was for the Seattle family. The first step in solving the problem is to pay close attention to every single student – monitor attendance, track absences, and look for patterns. “It’s not just unexcused absences that are the problem; it’s all absences,” notes Janet Tedesco, Literacy Consultant for Foundations. “We tend to focus on the unexcused absences, but sometimes excused absences provide crucial information about what is going on with a particular child.”




Photo: Stefanie Felix Photography

School officials must intervene early, before isolated absences become chronic and start to adversely affect learning. This means talking to parents and caregivers to stress the importance of daily attendance and to determine the reasons their children are missing school. And it means treating each child and family individually and respectfully while brainstorming with them to find a workable remedy, which may include incentives for regular attendance, the involvement of other professionals such as the school nurse or a social worker, or … the daily kindness of a dedicated teacher like Kim Nguyen.

Chang, H., & Romero, M. (2008). Present, Engaged, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades. National Center for Children in Poverty. 1

Reading for Life: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Seamless Learning Victoria is a striving third-grade reader at Garfield Elementary School in Oakland, California, a Making Connections site. She is bright and spunky, and lives with her grandmother, who makes sure Victoria is at school every day at 7:45 AM to receive supplemental literacy help from both her classroom teacher and the morning intervention program. Victoria arrives early even on Fridays, when her group doesn’t meet, because she is so thirsty for the extra support. As a result, her reading has improved significantly and she is more self-confident. Aligning out-of-school instruction with school-day learning is essential for striving readers like Victoria. Grade level readers are born when teachers work in teams, focusing on individual children, developing reading success plans tailored to their particular needs, and implementing them consistently and diligently. Ongoing assessment and data analysis are also critical, to gauge progress and identify growing strengths and areas for continued improvement.

From Rhonda H. Lauer’s series on Foundations’ blog, Language & Literacy for All

“Everyone – and that means teachers, nurses, parent liaisons, principals – we all need to come to the table and talk about each child, figure out how they’re doing and what we need to do to get them reading at grade level,” notes Gail Meister, Foundations’ Executive Director for Learning and Development. “Child by child, that’s how we have to approach this national crisis.”

Recently, I learned about a little girl at one of the Making Connections sites, a rising second-grader named Fernanda. This year, Fernanda attended her school’s summer learning camp and received extensive literacy intervention. The curriculum also included a unique program that exposes under-achieving students to higher mathematics.

Elementary school students are not the only ones who need our help: adolescents require quality literacy instruction too. According to Time to Act, a 2009 report by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, without ongoing supports, early reading gains can rapidly deteriorate as students move through the higher grades. Programs like Foundations’ Prep Zone Plus, launched in spring 2010 through a PA 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, are one solution. Prep Zone Plus is an afterschool program for middle and high school students at four urban charter schools. It emphasizes youth development, positive learning activities, targeted math and reading intervention, and homework support, all in a relaxed, afterschool setting.

Photo: Stefanie Felix Photography

By the end of the summer, Fernanda’s reading had improved significantly – so had her vocabulary, especially in math. During camp, trained mathematicians used high-level vocabulary with Fernanda and her peers; the students then used the same vocabulary to solve problems posed to them. The mathematicians encouraged analysis and questioning, a technique applicable to reading as well. All told, the math program was the perfect complement to the literacy component of the summer camp and a key factor in Fernanda’s academic advancement. Literacy can be integrated into lessons in every subject. Math, history, social studies, art, and music: these disciplines should be viewed as opportunities to build students’ reading, writing, and language skills in exciting ways.

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Making Connections & Foundations, Inc. cont. from pg. 5

Health and Nutrition: Essential Elements of Reading Readiness At Making Connections’ schools, incoming kindergartners undergo a developmental screening to determine issues affecting their ability to learn, such as health problems, language or motor delay, and social/emotional instability. If necessary, parents are then referred to appropriate resources. In the past, at George Washington Carver Community School in Des Moines, Iowa, the nurse conducted the screenings. But this summer, when parents brought their children to the school to register for fall classes, kindergarten teachers administered the screenings. So, even before school started, teachers and caregivers formed relationships in service of the children in their care.

Bright eyes, high spirits, eager and curious. The signs of healthy, happy young children are obvious. Yet, in a country that leads industrialized nations in the number of billionaires, 22.5% of children are at risk of hunger2 and 11% are uninsured.3 Both poor nutrition and inadequate healthcare prevent many children from reaching early reading milestones, but developmental screenings like those conducted at Making Connections sites uncover many issues affecting children’s ability to learn and to read. Perhaps they need glasses, braces, or asthma

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medication. Early screenings, referrals to physicians, and diligent follow-up can remove these obstacles to learning. Attentive teachers can also help by identifying mental or physical health problems among their students. School nurses and administrators can ensure that all families have health insurance and a medical home. And the school itself can become a community hub for health and social services, where students and their families can receive vaccinations or have their hearing and eyesight tested.

...incoming kindergartners undergo a developmental screening to determine issues affecting their ability to learn...

U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2009. American’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2009.



Photo: J.W. Gregg Meister/Interlink Media


Every Day, Everywhere: Literacy for Life At the Seeds for Learning farm and marketplace in Philadelphia, learning heated up the summer. Student farmers planted, harvested, sold – and cooked! – fresh produce and healthy foods right at their high school. In the process, they learned about science and the environment, finance and entrepreneurship, teamwork and communication. Activities such as reading recipes and composing a cookbook also honed their reading and writing skills.

Foundations’ President and CEO Rhonda H. Lauer, a member of this taskforce, agrees. “Studies show that, to prevent a decline in reading achievement, children need to read at least five books between the end of one school year and the start of another. What if you don’t have enough money? Then, we – the schools, the community, caring individuals – need to give children books. Every one of us is responsible for making sure our nation’s children learn to read.”

Summer is a break from school, a chance for exploration and new experiences, but it should not be a break from learning, particularly for underserved children and youth. Low-income students, many of them already behind in basic skills, lose an average of three months in reading achievement each summer, culminating in a two-year gap by middle school. The solution? Year-round learning – before school, after school, on the weekends, in the summer, at home and in the community.

For many young people, extended learning opportunities are a lifeline. They provide English language learners, who make up nearly 20% of the school-aged population, with extra time to practice their speaking and writing skills. Striving readers receive individualized reading instruction and personal attention.

For many young people, extended Photo: Ray Cordero/Interlink Media

As the national Time, Learning, and Afterschool Taskforce noted in its seminal report A New Day for Learning, “This is not just a crisis for our schools. Every institution, stakeholder group and community, as well as every citizen, must understand the critical need to do much more for all our children.”

But extended learning programs should not mirror the school day. At-risk students do best with stimulating, project-based learning experiences that are relevant, engaging, and connected to the real world. Ideal programs build skills by integrating literacy into lessons and handson experiences in a variety of disciplines: the arts, music, history, and – as with Seeds for Learning – STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

learning opportunities are a lifeline. w w w. f o u n d a t i o n s i n c . o r g

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on Professional Development

Professional Development Just a Click Away High quality out-of-school time (OST) programs employ staff trained to support the academic and developmental growth of today’s youth. However, finding effective and affordable professional development options for staff can be daunting. Applying ‘on the ground’ experience from having trained over 10,000 OST staff in 35 states, Foundations has built web-based trainings to affordably fill the gap in professional needs and interests of OST staff. With PD@your.desktop, Foundations offers 19 different live webinars throughout the school year. Webinar topics include project based learning, family engagement, and STEM in afterschool. All webinars provide free downloadable tools and resources, as well as the opportunity to connect with OST leaders from around the country. Additionally, through partnering with numerous states and large OST providers, Foundations has custom designed many online trainings to quickly implement comprehensive and unique professional development solutions. In addition to live webinars, Foundations now offers PD@your.desktop On-Demand. The On-Demand option allows individuals to watch any or all of 11 recorded webinars. Subscription plans offer unlimited access to all trainings for 3, 6, or 12 months. The On-Demand series enables program and site directors to efficiently train new hires and customize professional development plans for staff. Reflection questions accompany each On-Demand webinar to help staff reflect on how to implement new ideas and techniques at their site. For more information, please contact Foundations, Inc. at or call 888-977-5437.




February 23–26, 2011 Hyatt Regency Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia

Special Focus Reading at Grade Level: We’re All Responsible We know that children who read at grade level by third grade have a better chance to graduate high school and enjoy fulfilling, productive lives. So how do we ensure that all children read, and read well?

growing English language learner population, technology for literacy, differentiated instruction, leveraging afterschool as a full partner for literacy, summer learning, and parent and community engagement.

Join us as we address issues, best practices, innovations, research, and partnerships for achieving this critical milestone for children’s success in and out of school time. Presentations and workshops will address language and literacy skills, working with the

Professionals from education, youth development, and community-based programs will find inspiration in the experiences of others and in sharing stories with peers from across the country.



Register online

or call


Stay Connected!

Keynote Speakers e



Weatherman and Host of NBC’s Today, Bestselling Author, and Multimedia Entrepreneur.

Disney 2000 American Teacher of the Year and Founder Ron Clark Academy.


It Takes a Village… to Teach a Child How to Read  In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child.  – President Barack Obama, February 24, 2009

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We need to be proactive,

Parents are probably the most important determinant of a child’s ability to read early

reach out and talk to

and well: studies show that children who live

[families], so they realize

in print-rich environments and who are read

the importance of school

to during the first years of life are more likely to develop stronger reading abilities and enter

and early literacy.

school prepared to succeed 1. They are also the people who ensure that children are healthy, eat right, and go to school each day. But let’s be realistic. For some families, the top priority is not education; their main job is to make sure the children under their care have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and shoes on their feet. As a result, some schools must work harder to involve low-income families in their children’s education. “We can’t just sit back and assume that families will be actively involved,” states Soledad Alfaro, Director of Expanded Learning. “We need to be proactive, reach out and talk to them, so they realize the importance of school and early literacy. We need to host special events that draw them in, and we need to communicate with them regularly, through weekly folders and phone calls when necessary.” To achieve widespread literacy, particularly among at-risk children and youth, parents and schools require additional help – from business, civic and municipal leaders, social service providers, volunteers, and non-profits. They must participate actively in the development and implementation of programs that address the educational needs of the community. For example, Foundations’ Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT) relies on its partners – the Office of Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans and the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation – and its generous funders such as the Lenfest Foundation. Its success also depends on organizations, businesses, and universities. Because of their collective expertise and resources, PCAT is able to offer a variety of world-class programs and post-secondary opportunities seldom available to urban, low-income residents. Photo: J.W. Gregg Meister/Interlink Media

“PCAT programs are unique in that they are aligned with the interests of young people – art, music, computers, even food,” notes PCAT Assistant Director Stephen Robertson. “But the best part is that while they’re having fun, they’re learning too. Reading, doing math, and building public speaking, presentation, and communication skills. It’s a fantastic model.”


Reach Out and Read, 2009.

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FA L L / W I N T E R 2 0 1 0 N E W S L E T T E R

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Foundations’ integrated and strategic approach to the national literacy crisis Focus on Foundations is published by Foundations, Inc. Moorestown West Corporate Center 2 Executive Drive, Suite 1 Moorestown, NJ 08057 • 888-977-5437 © 2010 Foundations, Inc. All rights reserved. Cover photo: Harvey Finkle Photography Cover photo of Ms. Lauer: Ray Cordero/Interlink Media

Every child deserves a first-rate education. Give today and you can help Foundations to strengthen educational opportunities for our nation’s children who need them the most. For details or to make a secure donation online, visit

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