Dubuque takes community-wide approach to reading - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque takes community-wide approach to reading

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Third grade teacher Michelle Vandermillen works with her students on reading at Dubuque's Audubon Elementary School. Third grade teacher Michelle Vandermillen works with her students on reading at Dubuque's Audubon Elementary School.
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Dubuque is ahead of the game when it comes to third grade reading.

Governor Branstad's Education Reform bill, which passed in May, places an emphasis on third grade reading proficiency. According to the bill, by the 2016-2017 school year, students who fail to meet third grade reading proficiency tests at the end of the year must either repeat third grade or enroll in an intensive summer reading program.

Dubuque has its own Third Grade Reading Initiative, through the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque's "Every Child / Every Promise" program.

The initiative addresses students' need in and out of the classroom and focuses on three key targets: school readiness, school attendance and summer learning loss.

"Some of that falls really heavily in the school world and some of it doesn't," Dubuque Community School District associate superintendent Lynne Devaney said. "Everyone's come to the table and saying, 'We're going to own all of it.'"

By "everyone," she's talking about community partners that range from the city's Leisure Services department to the public library to local non-profit organizations.

The effort all stems from national data that show a direct correlation between reading proficiency by the end of third grade and graduation rate, which ultimately impacts the community. Dubuque is no exception to the national numbers.

"Students who can read by third grade have a greater likelihood, a very high likelihood, of graduating," Devaney said. "When we look at the number of third graders who are not proficient in reading in third grade, [it] almost matches our graduation rate."

About 87 percent of Dubuque Community School District third graders are proficient readers by the end of the year. That means 13 percent are still struggling.

"There is a factor of socio-economic, low socio-economic, in the trend of the demographic of the students that are not achieving, and so that leads us to look at issues around poverty," Devaney said.

Eric Dregne is the vice president of programs at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. He said the initiative includes everything from developing an attendance program to examining the effectiveness of the school's breakfast program.

"Kids that don't graduate high school end up in poverty, often end up in crime and often, unfortunately, end up in prison," he said, driving home the long-term community impact third grade reading proficiency can have on a community.

Dubuque's Third Grade Reading Initiative was a key component in the city's application for the 2012 All-America City award, which it won this summer.

Devaney said people who work for all sorts of organizations not directly linked to the school district are getting professional development training from the district right now regarding reading, including foster grandparents, AmeriCorps workers and employees of Dubuque's Leisure Services Department. Saturating the community with people who encourage kids to read - whether in big or small, direct or indirect ways, she said - can make a difference.

"Small environmental factors all contribute, collectively, to big change," Devaney said.

She calls that collective impact.

Dregne said anybody interested in getting involved with Dubuque's Third Grade Reading Initiative can visit the Every Child / Every Promise Website.

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