Shawnee Co. earns 5th grade-level reading pacesetter honor

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(Pexels/Stanislav Kondratiev)(WLUC)
Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 11:41 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Shawnee County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has won its fifth award as a pacesetter for the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

United Way of Greater Topeka says the Shawnee County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has been recognized for a fifth year as a national Pacesetter community by the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. It says the community coalition focuses on student and family support increasing the number of students who ready proficiently by the end of third grade. It says Shawnee Co. is the only community to receive Pacesetter honors for 2020 in Kansas.

According to the United Way, the current Pacesetter award recognizes Campaign partner Communities in Schools of Mid-America for “Strengthening Support Services.” It says two other Campaign partners are recognized as finalists and are competing for the honors.

The United Way says the Topeka and Shawnee Co. Public Library is a finalist in the School Readiness category with its Learn and Play Bus, which has been honored before by the national Campaign as a national Bright Spot. It says the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is a finalist in the Parent Success category for its Play Free program that provides “play-based education and exploration for kids with an incarcerated mom.” It says the two finalist programs will hear in September if they have earned full Pacesetter status.

The United Way says CGLR promotes early school success and says it is an early building block of hopeful futures for children in economically challenged families and communities. It says the program is a collaboration between funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities while working to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.

“We applaud the civic leaders and local funders whose time, talent, energy and imagination have fueled progress in these Pacesetter Communities,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of CGLR. “Mobilized communities — like these Pacesetters — support our big bet on the problem-solving potential of proximity.”

CGLR says it received self-nominations from 214 stories in 50 different communities that represent 23 states and even one Canadian province. It says the nominated stories were reviewed by panels of community-based peer reviewers. It says at the end, 2,000 story reviews were filed by almost 400 reviewers.

“The commitment to peer review is a unique and important aspect of the Pacesetter Recognition process,” Smith said. “They bring a combination of local knowledge and real-world experience that adds heft and credibility to the Pacesetter Recognition process.”

The United Way says Shawnee County review members consisted of Marie Pycko of TSCPL, Brandy Tofel of CIS of Mid-America, Nichole Fairley of Parents as Teachers - Topeka Public Schools, Christina Ostmeyer of Kansas Appleseed and Jennifer Wiard of Washburn University.

“We can’t thank our local reviewers enough for stepping up to this task,” said Brett Martin, United Way of Greater Topeka Vice President of Community Impact. “Without their contribution, we wouldn’t be able to submit our own Pacesetter application for review. And it’s gratifying to know that other communities are providing reviewers with the same level of expertise as the professionals who volunteered in our community.”

The United Way says the Ross Elementary School CIS of Mid-America Site Coordinator holds a weekly boys’ group, which stemmed from the identification of several students displaying leadership among their peers. However, it says the potential leaders frequently display negative attention-seeking behaviors as well resulting in regular disciplinary actions.

According to the United Way, to address this, the coordinator, which was supported by the school administration, chose a more innovative approach meeting the needs of students and recognizing their talents. It says he developed a boys’ group focusing on enhancing students’ leadership skills and teaching them how to use the skills to better their communities. It says the majority of students are members of racial/ethnic minority groups and have experienced oppression and racism as part of their trauma history.

The organization says the group centers its lessons on respect for others with actions and words. It says due to many of the young boys having seen unhealthy interactions between adults that tend to display inequality or violence, the Site Coordinator ensures the boys understand how to respect women and how to live a life free of violence. It says in order to enhance understanding, the coordinator partners with men of merit in the community leading weekly sessions. It says the prominent men are members of the police department, school district, homeless shelter and social services, anti-gang initiatives, substance abuse prevention services and athletic programs. It says they use their status within the community to better their lives and the lives of Topekans.

According to the organization, some of the men have even expressed an interest in mentoring the students due to an understanding of and relating to similar adverse childhood experiences. It says the success of the group has led to the creation of a weekly girls’ group as well that focuses on healthy relationships and healthy body images.

“The goal of CIS of Mid-America is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to succeed in school and achieve in life. This program is just one example of how we accomplish that,” said Brandy Tofel, Vice President of Field Operations for CIS of Mid-America.

The United Way says the philosophy for the award-winning bus is grounded in the Family Place Library model and its three components of engaging families of children under five, facilitating purposeful play and connecting families to community resources and parenting information within play interactions. It says the library received the official designation as a Family Place Library with the help of a three-year grant with the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It says at the same time, library CEO Gina Millsap began discussing thoughts of an early childhood vehicle-based service.

The Library says it recruited school districts, elementary teachers, childcare and healthcare professionals, the local technical school and specialized nonprofits to engage them in the three-year-long planning process. It says they collaborated on every aspect of the Learn and Play Bus, from its purpose and goals to the color of its cabinets.

According to the Library, in one year the bus had thousands of visitors and follows a year-round weekly schedule across the country. It says families look forward to bus visits and have taken ownership of the service and its value on children. It says it feels like an old fashioned neighborhood on board, adults know children by name and one dad is happy to help entertain other children along with is own. It says peer modeling comes naturally and friendships develop and persist even after the bus leaves.

“It is truly gratifying to be honored as a Pacesetter finalist. The Learn and Play service has been integral in helping Topeka and Shawnee County’s children thrive and be ready for school, and it is successful because of our committed collaborations developed with our local Campaign for Grade-Level Reading,” said Marie Pyko, Director of Public Services for TSCPL.

The United Way says Play Free from the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is a play-based education and exploration program for kids with an incarcerated mother and in some cases an incarcerated grandmother. It says the program invites kids to the museum for a full day of fun with their moms and encourages educational play and family bonding to increase resilience.

According to the organization, Play Free supports kids that need opportunities to play in a safe and caring environment. It says through no fault of their own, these children experience pain and confusion of separation from a mother or grandmother. It says Play Free allows kids to gather outside the prison walls for a day of normalcy in a challenging time for families.

The United Way says every child deserves rich and diverse museum experiences and play is particularly important for those who have experienced trauma. It says having an incarcerated family member or an absent caregiver has been identified as experiences that later increase their risk for violence, alcohol or drug abuse and poor health. It says programs to promote healthy bonding between kids and their incarcerated caregivers make a difference in the lives of the children by strengthening the attachment that makes kids more resilient.

“Strong families build strong communities. We are so proud to be able to bring children and their mothers together to share educational play experiences that promote bonding. We are honored to see the program recognized nationally alongside innovative services to support families in need,” said Dene’ Mosier, KCDC President/CEO.

For more information on the Shawnee County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, visit its Facebook page.

Copyright 2020 WIBW. All rights reserved.

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