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DPH Helps Launch Get Georgia Reading Campaign With a Promise from Commissioner Fitzgerald

August 8, 2014

First Lady Sandra Deal and Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) joined more than 100 partners representing government agencies, private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and communities from across the state to launch Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. They gathered at Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) in Atlanta last week and promised Georgia’s children that they will work together to get all kids on a path to reading proficiency by third grade by 2020.

“We are at a critical point in time when it comes to preparing Georgia’s next generation of leaders,” said Arianne Weldon, director of Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. “The first critical milestone for any child’s success in education is the ability to read by third grade because this is the moment a child transitions from learning to read, to reading to learn.”

Nearly two-thirds of Georgia’s children are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade. According to a study commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who cannot read by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. Children born into low-income families who lack access to educational opportunities arrive in kindergarten having heard 30 million fewer words within the first four years of life than their peers from more financially stable homes. Failure to reach this milestone has implications on Georgia’s ability to prosper.

“We must make an active effort to increase the percentage of children reading well and independently at grade-level,” said Georgia first lady Sandra Deal. “By giving each and every child access to education at an early age, we are able to teach them the essential skills they need to build a foundation for all their future academic endeavors. Children are some of Georgia’s most capable and treasured resources, and it is critical that we pave their path to lifelong education with opportunities to learn.”

The good news in Georgia, according to Weldon, is that there’s already a lot of work underway to get kids reading, but up to now, progress has been slow because much of that work has not been aligned.

“Today we’re poised to pick up speed, because the Campaign’s partners have rallied around a common agenda,” she said. “We’re working across sectors to make sure kids not only have access to books, but to food, vaccines, productive learning environments, engaged families, and effective teachers as well. Kids can’t learn to read when they’re hungry, sick, or in a stressful environment.”

This unprecedented partnership is committed to a common agenda to keep all kids on track to read by third grade. The Campaign rests on four pillars for change that target the major drivers of increased reading proficiency — all areas of which address the birth through third-grade population:

  • Language nutrition - all children receive language-rich, adult-child interactions that are as critical for brain development as healthy food is for physical growth.
  • Access - all children have year-round access to learning opportunities and nutritious meals, along with supportive services for healthy development, and quality early childhood and elementary education.
  • Productive learning climate - all educators, families, and policymakers understand and address the impact of learning climate on social-emotional development, school attendance, engagement, and ultimately student success.
  • Teacher preparation and effectiveness - all educators provide high-quality, evidence-based instruction and effective learning experiences tailored to the needs of each child, regardless of the child’s background.

Getting children on the path to reading proficiency by third grade starts at birth. This means educating parents on the importance of how talking, reading, and singing with their children is critical to language and literacy development.

“Language is the basis for which all learning occurs,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Children require a steady diet of language nutrition, because neurologic development of the brain is biologically dependent on language.”

In her promise, Dr. Fitzgerald told the children that public health would connect with all the people it serves to teach them the importance of talking and reading to their babies and children and making sure they have a healthy diet of language nutrition.

And when a child grows older and enters school, the school environment affects a student’s ability to learn.

“It is critical that our students are in the care of effective, adequately prepared teachers, and that students attend schools where they feel safe, secure, and connected—that is conducive to learning and growth,” said State Superintendent John Barge. “We are working to ensure that all teachers are prepared, from day one, to differentiate instruction based on the varying needs of children in their classrooms, and we are making progress toward ensuring a positive school climate for all of Georgia’s public school students.”

Weldon assured parents, teachers, and children that they’re not alone.

“A tremendous amount of resources and organizations already exist to support you,” she said. “Getgeorgiareading.org is the place where all stakeholders can access in one convenient location, valuable resources, best practices, stories, and educational transformation occurring across the state. Getting kids to read takes more than good schools, more than great teachers, more than loving parents. It requires everyone to play a role. So I encourage every Georgian to visit our website to make your promise to get Georgia reading.”

To learn how you can get involved in the Get Georgia Reading campaign, visit http://www.getgeorgiareading.org/

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