Working Together Across Arizona and Florida to Increase Early Literacy

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At Helios Education Foundation, our ultimate goal is for every student in Arizona and Florida to complete a postsecondary degree. That is why we believe learning should begin as early as possible. 

Research shows the value of high-quality early learning experiences that lay the foundation for future academic success. And, third grade is recognized as the final year children are learning to read, after which students read to learn. As a result, if they are not proficient readers when they begin fourth grade, as much as half of the curriculum will be incomprehensible. This commitment to ensuring all children start their academic journey prepared to succeed and ultimately connect their potential to limitless possibilities guides Helios’ investment focus, starting with early learning.  

A cornerstone to our early learning strategy in Arizona is Helios’ ongoing partnership with Read Better Be Better (RBBB). The organization runs an after-school literacy program that uses trained middle school volunteers to implement a simple, but highly structured after-school program for 3rd graders. The older students work one-on-one with the younger students, modeling and fostering active engagement with a variety of books and other reading materials. The program also includes constructive play activities specifically chosen for their ability to focus attention and improve concentration. The program is currently implemented across ten partners that include school districts and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix. The program has a two-fold effect as it not only increases the 3rd graders’ abilities to read, as shown by a 22 percent growth on reading comprehension tests over non-participating classmates, but it also positively impacts the middle school mentors, of whom 86 percent reported they felt they now had what it took to be a good leader after volunteering. Overall, 86 percent of 3rd grade participants self-reported they could read better after participating in RBBB.

“The impact of Read Better Be Better can be seen in the numbers,” said Michelle Boehm, Program Director, Early Grade Success, Arizona Community Engagement. “Increasing reading scores by these numbers is something that cannot be done without one-on-one intervention, and that is what the program is doing. It is stepping in to fill the need many of Arizona’s 3rd graders have for additional reading instruction.”

Similarly, in Florida, our partnership with the Florida Grade Level Reading Campaign (The Campaign) is an example of how collaboration and network-building can create momentum around a common goal. The Campaign began at a national level in 2010, and officially launched in Florida in 2015 as a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofits, businesses, government agencies, and others to ensure more low-income children succeed in school and are prepared for college and career.  

The campaign has grown and is now partnering with local grade level reading campaigns in 20 counties across Florida. Some local campaigns, like The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR), have brought together efforts in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties to increase the reach of the campaign in the community and form a shared regional vision of success.

In addition to energizing partner communities across Florida to create local coalitions, Campaign leaders are working collaboratively with statewide business leaders to exemplify the critical importance of early learning and 3rd grade reading. Recognizing the need to elevate the competitiveness of Florida’s future workforce, Campaign leaders educate leaders across all sectors regarding the importance of early grade success and the compounding impact of early grade preparedness on high school graduation and postsecondary success. To better-connect with business leaders, the Campaign has worked diligently with the Florida Chamber Foundation by engaging and growing the Chamber’s Business Alliance for Early Learning. 

“The Florida Grade Level Reading Campaign is a great example of what happens when educators, the business community and direct-service nonprofits coalesce around an objective,” said Kirsten Schmitz, Program Director, Student Success Initiatives. “We are so fortunate to have a partner like the Campaign who has taken on this leadership role and made incredible headway toward ensuring leaders from all sectors know the importance of reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Their work is enhancing students’ lives and improving outcomes.” concluded Schmitz.   

Both partnerships are representations of Helios Education Foundation’s beliefs in community, equity, investment, and partnership. The collaborations fostered by these partners improve the lives of numerous children whose futures are enriched by early academic success.