Kansas City is a city rich in diversity, creativity and entrepreneurship and is filled with nonprofit agencies and philanthropic supporters seeking to make the city strong for all residents. However, it is also a complicated city with a history rife with racism and division that created tremendous challenges, including the equitable education of children. Educationally, the percentage of students who read at grade level by third grade ranges from 0% – 60%, with the average falling at approximately 15%. These numbers exemplify the inequity across the city and the powerful need to focus on increasing literacy for all students. Turn the Page KC (TTPKC) is a nonprofit organization that was founded to improve children’s lives and opportunities by increasing literacy by the third grade.
When COVID-19 forced schools to close in March 2020 and open virtually for the 2020-2021 school year, it created a child care crisis across Greater KC. In the districts/schools where most students live in economically vulnerable households, lack of child care and digital equity quickly emerged as critical risk factors. The Out of School Time Collaborative (OST Collaborative), coordinated by TTPKC, quickly mobilized to raise funds and enroll students at 16 “safe learning sites.” The group learned quickly that the needs of the children were much more than anyone anticipated. The children served lacked food security, witnessed domestic violence, suffered from anxiety induced by fears of the virus, had no electricity at home, and so much more. Through grants and generous donations from a wide array of community partners, the OST Collaborative raised over $3 million and served over 800 students with full-day, safe, hybrid learning spaces and critical wraparound services.
Looking Ahead, READ 360˚
In fall 2021, TTPKC initiated READ 360˚, a new collective impact program focused on centering the voices of parents and families, neighborhood by neighborhood, to shape the vision of support, resources and services that will increase literacy. Bringing together the parents and family members of a community, READ 360˚ program partners focus on listening and supporting Neighborhood Literacy Councils and leveraging the unique and specific assets of partners who support the growth envisioned. A neighborhood association or leadership group will be approached by the READ 360˚ outreach team for discussion and planning. If the neighborhood is interested in engaging in READ 360˚, a Literacy Community partnership will be formed. Each partnership will consist of a three-year commitment, while developing the programs, structures and leadership to be self-sustaining beyond those years. As TTPKC has developed the initial structures and strategies of the READ 360˚ program, it has done extensive outreach to social service, education and community partners. These conversations have helped reshape TTPKC’s thinking around such topics as: how to center the work on families; how to create trust with Literacy Councils; how to focus literacy in the vision/planning of parent Literacy Councils; how to build leadership and sustainability into the program; and more. A partner networking conversation every six months allows for continued feedback and guidance from community stakeholders.