In Wilkes-Barre, A Growing Movement to Combat Child Poverty, Promote Literacy

Posted by Nancy Rogan on

By Lane Russell ​December 08, 2016

Education is the single most influential factor in determining a child's success.

This is a core belief of The United Way of Wyoming Valley, which convened the Destination Graduation: Wyoming Valley GradNation Community Summit in partnership with the Luzerne Intermediate Unit to explore innovative approaches to supporting young people in and out-of-school. 

More than 250 individuals, educators, business leaders, and community organizations came together on Oct. 28 to examine local data, identify best practices, and address challenges in Wyoming Valley’s efforts to improve high school graduation rates and better prepare young people for success.

Despite the summit’s focus on education, United Way of Wyoming Valley President and CEO Bill Jones said it’s important not to “view high school graduation as a finish line. Rather, it is the starting line for success as an adult.”

Child Poverty Rate Has Doubled Since 2000

While the community boosts an 88 percent graduation rate, not all young people are succeeding and receiving the resources they need. The summit drew attention to movements that are building locally and how this is a critical moment for more of the community to become involved.

“If things are going to change, it takes all of us,” said Jones.

One of the initiatives led by the United Way of Wyoming Valley is the Poverty to Possibility movement. Since 2000, the poverty rate for children in Luzerne County has doubled. Based on the 2000 census data, the poverty rate for children in Luzerne County was 14.7 percent.  Today, it is 29.6 percent.

Through the Poverty to Possibility movement, the United Way is focused on making lasting change by reducing poverty among children and their families. As part of this, their focus on education includes investments in opportunities that provide children and youth with quality learning and skill development.

Jones continued, “Value will be measured by changing lives and getting more kids from poverty to possibility. Graduating more kids means stronger families, a better community, and more possibility. We are convening today to transform tomorrow.”

Youth Panelist: ‘We are your future.’

Youth panel

A panel of young people shared their stories of academic opportunities and challenges, along with the types of supports that will help them succeed. 

Charlette Gittens, a twelfth-grade student shared that “with help we can be anything we want to be. We are your future. Understand us and offer your guidance.”

In an afternoon breakout session, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading shared why early childhood education matters and how Wyoming Valley is working to ensure all young children enter kindergarten ready to learn, read, and succeed.  

Wyoming Valley recently joined the Campaign for Grade Level Reading (GLR Campaign) to target early literacy as an urgent priority and developed a comprehensive action plan to put its youngest citizens on the path to success.

By 2020, the GLR Campaign aims to increase by at least 100 percent the number of children from low-income families reading proficiently at the end of third grade in a dozen or more states.

The community’s action plan will address three underlying challenges that can keep young children, especially those from low-income families, from learning to read proficiently: school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning.

Jeff Smink, senior consultant for Pennsylvania Network, Campaign for Grade Level Reading, stressed the importance of working together to achieve these goals.

“Schools can’t do it alone,” he said.

America’s Promise Alliance is working with community partners across the country to host 100 community summits through 2016. This initiative is part of its GradNation goal to reach a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020.

Each community summit convenes multi-sector leaders to identify challenges facing young people in their communities and develop strategies to address them.


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