The Suncoast Region of Florida – encompassing Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties – is a region marked by incredible diversity of multiracial and multilingual rural, suburban and urban communities ranging in economic status. Within this region, many asset-limited families continue to struggle to ensure that their children will retain reading skills and read at grade level throughout elementary school. Challenges faced by these families only grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, which offered new inroads and opportunities for the Suncoast Region Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) to continue its work in ensuring children retain grade-level reading skills. The following five principles undergird this work:
A 2Gen Approach
Collaboration between SCGRL and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County (CFSC) has led to the implementation of a 2Gen approach toward promoting grade-level reading among children from asset-limited families. This approach specifically engages with historically marginalized communities to incorporate the perspectives, values and leadership of parents and caregivers in educational programming and resources. CFSC’s 2Gen approach invests in education and certification for parents, caregivers and children, aligning mental health support with academic success. Through this approach, CFSC and SCGRL have provided resources for over 17,000 asset-limited children throughout the Suncoast region. Beyond children, this approach supported 194 parents to enroll in college programs, 85% of whom received wage increases by virtue of additional education. Parents and caregivers are empowered not only to support their children in early childhood education, but also to further their own educational pursuits through additional resources that can alter generational trajectories for countless families and communities.
Along with CFSC, SCGRL partnered with the Sarasota Housing Authority to develop and implement several initiatives designed to combat educational inequities and poverty cycles. These initiatives include affordable housing programs such as Lofts on Lemon, a collection of 128 units in a mixed-income project that stabilizes housing costs for limited-asset families. Beyond housing, these partnerships support various summer, afterschool and out-of-school learning opportunities. Through Summer Learning Academies and the Sarasota Summer Reading Challenge, more than 9,000 students benefited from summer learning programming. With Stronger Me, Stronger We, SCGLR invests in communities through virtual small groups that seek to increase literacy by connecting children and families to educational resources. These connections develop senses of solidarity and community among families and children as they progress in their literacy journeys.
These collaborations are supported by data-sharing programs that connect school districts, community partners and housing networks. Data sharing, which takes place both at individual and aggregate levels, prevents children from “falling through the cracks” by tracking attendance, disciplinary records, and encouraging success and milestones within each child’s educational experiences. Through these networks, SCGRL and its community partners hope to develop further initiatives to address evident community needs and support families and children utilizing a 2Gen approach.