Happy child with booksBy Lester Strong ♦

In late April, America’s Promise Alliance announced that for the first time in our nation’s history we achieved an 80 percent graduation rate. Hundreds of nonprofit and government partners celebrated that achievement. It was only eight years ago that we graduated fewer than 74 percent and our graduation rate was categorized as “C”. We have now progressed to “B” but it will take more than the schools, teachers and administrators alone to continue this forward momentum.

Many believe that we can improve graduation rates by improving grade-level reading scores.   The Annie E. Casey Foundation Report, Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters draws attention to the reality that children who are not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma, and are also more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as truancy and aggression. The report cites National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data that suggests some 68 percent of American children could not read at grade level by the end of third grade.

Everyone has a stake in this country’s future. And most would agree that helping children get an education is essential. It will take people like you, getting involved in our collective efforts to close the gap so that every child can be successful in getting and graduating with a basic education.

Here are three ways you might consider contributing as the school year gets underway:

  • Give Kids the Tools to Learn: School supplies are always in demand so get involved by hosting a Book or School Supplies Drive in your neighborhood or through your church or social group. Create the Good has a step-by-step how-to guide on getting started. http://www.createthegood.org/equipped-to-learn
  • Volunteer Your Time and Talents: There are many nonprofit organizations that work with children and youth. Take the next step and find a volunteer opportunity in your community. AARP Experience Corps, www.aarp.org/experience has adults 50 and over serve as in-school reading tutors in classrooms from kindergarten through third grade in 22 cities across the country. Big Brothers and Big Sisters, http://www.bbbs.org/ works more closely with youth, helping them see opportunity and engage in the community and world through consistent interaction with a trusted adult. There are many other opportunities and schools also have volunteer programs you might consider.
  • Donate to the Cause: If you have more money than time, look for ways to help support education and nonprofits who work in this field. Make sure you donate to an organization that you can trust. AARP offers a few tips on what to look for when donating to charities: http://bit.ly/1pkbKfk.

No matter how you participate in the effort to create better opportunity for our nation’s children, know that you’re leaving a lasting legacy and that your contributions are critically important in children’s lives.

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Lester Strong is Chief Executive Officer of AARP Experience Corps, a program which utilizes the time and talents of adults fifty and older as reading tutors and mentors for children in kindergarten through third grade. AARP Experience Corps serves nearly 30,000 students in 22 cities across the United States. The program is recognized as the one of the most effective in-school reading interventions in the country. Learn more about Experience Corps, and the 22 communities we serve. Visit www.aarp.org/experiencecorps.

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