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United Way of The Black Hills

Black Hills Reads

Black Hills Reads helps to ensure children are proficient readers by the end of the third grade.

Black Hills Reads (BHR) leverages its flexible role to breakdown industry silos, to streamline and improve collaborations, and ultimately to strengthen the systems that serve early learners and their families. As an engaged backbone organization and funder, BHR promotes early learning and literacy opportunities for early learners under age nine and their families in the Black Hills.

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Our Five Pillar Areas

School Readiness

The first five years of a child’s life are a time of enormous social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth. Nearly half of the children in our community are not prepared for kindergarten. Our goal is to close the school readiness gap and to help families gain the tools necessary to achieve the greatest success in preparing their children for kindergarten. Together, with our community partners, United Way of the Black Hills is working to ensure children enter school ready to learn, improve early reading proficiency, increase attendance, and raise graduation rates.

Our Strategies:

  • Connect parents and families to information, resources and support.
  • Create an early childhood educators network that works to provide resources and support to providers in the Black Hills.
  • Help to improve the quality and access to early childhood opportunities for children and families in South Dakota.
  • Build awareness of the importance of data collection and sharing in South Dakota.
  • Implement informational campaigns to educate more individuals living in South Dakota.

The Facts:

  • For every 50 children who don’t learn to read in kindergarten – 44 of them will be less likely to be proficient readers by 3rd grade.
  • Approximately 27 states collect data on school readiness of children entering kindergarten.
  • 85% of the brains neural connections are made in the first 5 years of life. Yet this age group has the least amount of focus nationally and in South Dakota.
  • Nearly 25% of SD children are unaccounted for and have no access to early childhood education before entering kindergarten. 

Healthy Readers

Poor health leads to higher rates of developmental delays and disabilities related to learning which causes decreased school readiness. Higher rates of asthma can affect school attendance. Poor nutrition affects learning although there are multiple summer food program sites in our community. These missed opportunities can contribute to summer learning loss. These health disparities – differences in health that favor children from more advantaged families – are reflected in lower levels of reading proficiency for children from low-income families.

Staying on Track

We know that learning begins at birth and that healthy development greatly impacts children’s ability to learn. Children who are on track in their physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and verbal development are more successful learners from their earliest years. They are also likely to become proficient readers.

Our Focus

The Healthy Readers Initiative of Black Hills Reads focuses on strategies to ensure that children from low-income families are in good health and developing on track in their development from birth through third grade.

How you can raise a healthy reader:

  • Visit your pediatrician on a regular basis to ensure your child’s health and well-being.
  • Ask your child’s pediatrician during your routine visits to determine if hearing tests are needed.
  • Immunizations are one of the best ways to protect infants, children and teens from harmful diseases.
  • Your baby should visit a dentist before their first birthday and yearly thereafter.

Parent Engagement

Parents Set the Stage

Parents play the most powerful and influential role in his or her child’s life. They are the child’s first teacher, brain builder, tech navigator, advocate, and coach. Parents set the stage for success in the early years and early grades. Parents can best prepare children for school, establish good school attendance habits, and prevent summer learning loss. Black Hills Reads recognizes that parents are the secret ingredient!

Our Process

Without parents, it is unlikely that we can make progress on Black Hills Reads’ three community solution areas — school readiness, school attendance, summer learning — or preparedness for third grade proficiency. This is why a focus on supporting parents should be integrated across all our work in communities across the country. 

Tips to Help Your Child Become a Successful Reader:

  • Read to your child every day and make it routine.
  • Talk and listen in everything you do.
  • Take books with you wherever you go.
  • Have books at home.
  • Visit your local library.

School Attendance

Chronic absence is a measure of how much school a student misses for any reason. It is a broader measure than truancy, which only tracks unexcused absences. Starting in the early grades, the percentage of students missing 10 percent of the school year can reach remarkably high levels, and these early absences can rob students of the time they need to develop literacy skills.

The Facts:

  • One in 10 kindergarten students miss nearly a month of school every year. In some districts, it runs as high as 1 in 3.
  • Kindergarteners who miss 10% of school days have lower academic performance when they reach first grade.
  • Among children from low-income families who lack the resources to make up lost time, chronic absence in kindergarten translated into lower fifth grade achievement.

Our Strategies:

  • Connecting parents and families to schools and their educators.
  • Bringing awareness to students and families about the importance of good attendance in a fun and inviting way.
  • Engaging and educating the community and its businesses on the importance of healthy attendance.

Summer Learning

According to the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Initiative, research spanning 100 years has proven that students lose ground academically when they are out of school for the summer. This problem is particularly severe among low-income students who lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer. This slows their progress toward third grade reading proficiency. In addition, it exacerbates the achievement gap with their middle-class peers. By the end of 5th grade, they are nearly three grade levels behind their peers.

The Facts:

  • In elementary years, reading as few as six books over the summer will help children maintain their reading level from that school year.
  • When children are provided with 10 to 20 self-selected children’s books at the end of the regular school year, as many as 50% not only maintain their skills, but actually make reading gains.
  • By the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged children are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.
  • Studies show 6-week summer learning programs can produce statistically significant gains in reading performance.

Our Strategies:

  • Connect parents and families to information, resources and support.
  • Get books into the hands of children.
  • Build awareness of quality summer programs in the Black Hills area.
  • Promote and strengthen supporting entities that already support summer programs such as local libraries, Girl Scouts, etc.

Stay in Touch with Black Hills Reads

BH Reads Newsletter

Stay up to date on upcoming events, resources, news, and all things Black Hills Reads!

Early Learning Digest

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Interested in volunteering with Black Hills Reads? Email the BHR Director or visit the Volunteer Connections website.

© 2024 United Way of The Black Hills