United Way literacy tools help children read to succeed

Published on June 21, 2019 in

We're helping families find the tools they need to help their children learn and grow.

Bryce Boden is well on his way to becoming a lawyer. His twin brother, Braylon, is preparing for a career in sports medicine.

Although Braylon’s stethoscope is composed of brightly colored plastic and Bryce’s most recent legal argument was over chocolate-chip cookies, the 6-year-olds are clear about their futures, as is their mom.

“I’ve had a vision for my boys from a very early age,” said Bianca Boden. “I do everything I can to nurture their talents.”

And that means encouraging her kids to develop a passion for reading.

Putting literacy in focus

United Way is committed to helping parents and caregivers build children’s literacy. As part of our Education work, we offer resources to encourage early literacy and keep kids reading and growing.

“If students can’t read, they can’t learn,” said Tammie Jones, vice president of education at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “Literacy is the doorway to everything else.”

Unfortunately, Michigan third-grade reading test scores remain some of the lowest in the nation, with 60 percent of third-grade students failing to meet statewide reading standards.

United Way makes strategic investments to increase third-grade literacy by connecting parents and teachers to free tools and resources to help children learn.

We’re also working to help schools and students get ahead of legislation that will force schools to hold students back if they haven’t achieved reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

“Schools are not equipped to deal with this legislation,” Tammie said. “It’s putting families and educators in an impossible situation when we deny resources, but demand results.”

United Way invests in tools to increase literacy.

Right tools, right start

Bianca always had a vision for her family, but there came a time when she needed help.

“I was in the middle of a divorce and I was struggling,” she said. “I just needed help — anything I could get.”

Bryce and Braylon’s teacher referred her to Oakland Family Services. The organization gave her budgeting resources and housing referrals, and connected her with a family checkup model specialist who helped her identify her family’s strengths and areas of opportunity.

She also took the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) which helped her gauge her boys’ developmental progress to keep them on track to hit important milestones.

United Way invests in early-childhood education in a variety of ways through our partners and programs.

Our investment in the ASQ helped the families of 90,730 children in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties access more than 157,000 developmental screenings. Sixty-eight percent of these children improved their developmental readiness.

In the future, United Way plans to link ASQ results with Ready4K — a free, research-based text messaging program for parents of children aged 8 and under. It will help parents take some of the guesswork out of early learning by offering easy-to-use, personalized tips and ways to monitor progress over time.

None of our early-education work would be possible without partners like Oakland Family Services. We support our partners through grant funding, as well as logistic and program support.

In 2018, United Way provided more than $575,000 in grants to Oakland Family Services to train caregivers and increase the quality of early-childhood education and care.

Bryce and Braylon Boden are excelling in school, thanks to literacy resources provided by United Way and our partners.

Building a love for learning

Bianca knows the importance of reading with her sons. However, she couldn’t always afford to keep the shelves stocked with new books.

Today, her house is stocked with books, thanks to free books provided by United Way and our partners.

“Parents are a child’s first teacher,” Tammie said. “Reading and talking together not only builds literacy, but also strengthens the bond between the child and their caregiver.”

United Way invests in various resources to increase childhood-literacy rates. This includes Summer Spark, an online program navigator supported by United Way and powered by the Youth Development Resource Center. Summer Spark helps parents find affordable summer programs for their children. This reduces the risk of losing achievement gains made during the school year.

Our Little Steps initiative gives free books to parents of newborns at Ascension St. John, Henry Ford and DMC Sinai-Grace. Through this initiative, United Way is working to encourage a daily reading habit from birth.  Since the program’s start in 2013, we’ve distributed tens of thousands of books to families in southeast Michigan. Soon, the impact will grow with an upcoming expansion into Dearborn hospitals and WIC clinics.

Oakland Family Services connected Bianca Boden to services to help her sons learn and grow.

More than just a dream

A smile breaks out across Bianca’s face as she talks about the future for her family. Even during turbulent times, she managed to stay positive.

“I didn’t have much,” Bianca said. “We were all living together in a studio apartment in Dearborn, but I never lost sight of the goals I had for them and their education,” she said. “A lot of the time, that’s what kept me going.”

The boys’ imaginations have exploded since reading aloud became a part of the family’s daily routines.

“We read to each other – sometimes from their books and sometimes from mine, she said. “We make it fun.”

Braylon and Bryce just finished kindergarten and are on-track with their learning. As a result, the possibilities for summer and beyond appear limitless.

“You have to not only have a vision for your children but also a plan and be willing to do what it takes to put that plan into action,” Bianca said. “Then nothing can stop you.”

To learn more about our Education initiatives, click here.