Focus on Early Education

Focus on early education

By Bronwyn Beightol

Guest Columnist

Taken from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Last week we observed the development of “connective tissue” that can help our communities improve the lives of children and families.

As Debra Jacobs of The Patterson Foundation emphasizes, the sharing of vital information and creation of thoughtful partnerships can lead to connections that change the trajectory of communities forthe better.

Consider the links among three recent events:

■ Last Wednesday in Tallahassee, the United Ways of Florida released the ALICE report. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. According to theUnited Way of Manatee County’s ALICE report, more than 43 percent of our community members are working hard every day, yet they struggle to make ends meet. When ALICE families are forced to make decisions between paying for health care or rent, or food or car repair, their children — our community’s children — suffer.

■ Also on Wednesday, Mark Wilson, chief executive of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, visited Sarasota/Bradenton and shared his organization’s vision for ending the cycle of generational poverty. He emphasized the importance of businessestaking a long-term leadership approach to this community challenge.

■ On Friday, Dr. Dipesh Navsaria shared with our community the Reach Out and Read program — an initiative that works with pediatricians to give books and “prescriptions for reading” to children.

The common thread? Recognition that a consistent, dedicated, collaborative focus on our children’s education is imperative to community,and individual,success.

Achieving that focus will require change in public policies. As Wilson explained, “We have shackled an entire generation through our policies. A single parent working 40 hours needs to earn $21 an hour to break even … yet our policy now is that the more you earn, the more you lose” in government benefits.

Wilson underscored the idea that, to make a lasting change in children, we need to develop a long-term approach. We have to look at brain development from birth to 3 and invest in systems that support education.

That’s where Reach Out and Read comes in. Navsaria’s visit coincided with the launch of a regional initiative through the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to ensure that our children, birth to 5, are reached by their pediatrician with a prescription for reading (given to their parents).

We all lose when we do not provide equitable opportunities for children to reach their potential. Reach Out and Read provides an opportunity for real, intentional, community-wide change. Because more than 90 percent of our families with children visit their pediatrician, the opportunity for promoting equitable access to educational opportunities for all of our parents exists.

Thanks to the leadership of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, funded through The Patterson Foundation, the Reach Out and Read initiative will be widely implemented in Manatee and Sarasota counties. United Way of Manatee County and Manatee Community Foundation have partnered to fund the initiative in Manatee for the next three years. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County has committed to ensure the program for the next three years in Sarasota.

It is up to our businesses and community to take leadership roles and ensure that our pediatricians have access to this important initiative for generations. When businesses, nonprofits, government, media and citizens work together, our entire community wins.— Bronwyn Beightol is chief operating officer of United Way of Manatee County.

A Field Trip to the Dentist: Manatee County Children Receive Vital Oral Health Care

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From a volunteer’s perspective, a certain level of cool has officially been achieved when a second grader and his walking partner compare you to an Avenger while you skip along with a walkie-talkie in one hand on the way to the Dental Van. Thanks to partnerships between the School District of Manatee County and Manatee County Rural Health services, elementary school students are receiving vital oral health care – many for the first time. “I’ve never seen a dentist,” an eager third-grade boy exclaimed to me as we bounced from his classroom to the van. “And I have some REAL [adult] teeth already!”

Unfortunately first-time visits are much too common among our low-income families as caretakers struggle to obtain basic oral health care for children. United Way of Manatee volunteers have been working with Title 1 School Graduation Enhancement Technicians (GETs) to transport children from their classrooms to the Dental Van where students receive dental sealants and general preventative care, including flossing. Students also receive a short lesson from the dentist on hygiene and a packet to take home including their very own toothbrush, toothpaste, dental mirror, and a sticker (for good measure.)

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading recognizes oral health care as a focus to create healthy readers. While oral health problems are the single most common chronic disease of early childhood, only 40% of low-income families are able to schedule yearly dentist appointments. Tooth decay causes children pain, loss of sleep, reduced concentration and attention span, and absence from school or preschool. Children from low-income families and children of color are most vulnerable and are at much higher risk of missing school. Additionally, oral health problems may lead children to limit their food intake and variety, leading to decreased consumption of healthy foods, which in turn affects children’s energy, attention and capacities for learning (Satcher 2003, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading). UWMC has participated in two Dental Van Days so far with another planned this week.

Some students are thrilled to take a “field trip” to the van. “It’s my first time!” I heard over and over from children aged preschool to third grade. Only one child said he had been to the dentist before, following his first-timer walking-partner’s claim with “It is my NUMBER TWO time!” Not all students were thrilled to see the dentist though, some even bursting into tears when we entered the van. In those cases, the students had three layers of comfort: their GET to hand them coloring supplies, the United Way volunteer to read with them, and the dentists themselves who took the time to talk with and show our children the process. “Would you like to help me? Come see what it’s all about,” one dentist kindly told a crying child.

United Way predicted this concern and offered Manatee Schools a solution: reading. Reading is a powerful tool both in education and mitigating stressful situations. United Way provided books and volunteers to read to our children while they waited. “One girl was wailing when she came in, but quickly calmed down when we started reading,” a United Way volunteer told me. I had a scared child whose walking partner and classmate was also eager to help make her feel better. We read a book about Clifford and in one part Clifford got his teeth cleaned. “Just like we are about to do,” I said. “Right!” the young friend explained. “Except dogs don’t have hands so Clifford probably got fur in his teeth.” The scared girl started laughing, and we finished the story just in time for her turn to see the dentist. She bounded off the chair smiling and reached out for the dentist’s hand, suddenly excited for this new adventure.

When walking back to the classrooms, I asked each child if they were nervous and was thrilled to hear how the setting itself (being at school) contributed to easing our children’s concerns. “I was scared, but I had you” the children said or “I had Ms. Ellen.”

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Gifts from the Dental Van went a long way to assuage any remaining concerns about the visit. One child explained that he could now see his “two big [adult] wiggly wiggly teeths” with the help of the new little mirror while another shouted repeatedly that the dentist gave her princess sparkly medicine for her teeth. “Mine is Ninja!” the boy squealed, not to be outdone. Children ran outside to show me all their “cool stuff” from the dentists who clearly showed their compassion for our children throughout the day. One kindergartner was pretty adamant that I should go see the Dental Van dentists because they were REALLY good at their jobs.

An A+ experience for our children and volunteers. Many thanks to the partnership of School District of Manatee County, Manatee County Rural Health, the United Way and Graduation Enhancement Technicians who help us fight for the education, health, and financial stability of our children.

If you would like to volunteer to be a reader and walker for the Dental Van visits, please email Cassandra Decker at cassandra@uwmanatee.org.

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Ready to get your FIT on?

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Our partners at UW Suncoast have worked out a challenge for you. A great way to make new friends, challenge old friends and support our region.

Participants will enjoy 18 fun and challenging obstacles including a 6-foot wall climb, high wall scale, low crawl and much more. As this is our first year, we expect between 200 and 400 participants. (Total distance for the race will be ~3 miles.)

Our goal is not only to create a fun and engaging event for our community, but use the race as a way to highlight the obstacles so many people in our community face and how United Way is helping them to overcome.

Click Here to Register

We are Proud to Recognize United Way Volunteer, Norm Nelson

“My greatest reward is seeing that kids have a better chance of becoming great citizens.  And the United Way – with its focus on reading success- has the power to change the face of our community, one youngster at a time.” – Norm Nelson

 

A staunch believer in the gift of reading and a two-year United Way volunteer with both ReadingPals and See Spot Read Spot, Norm is leading the team at Oneco Elementary School’s ReadingPals program. In addition to reading with the students, Norm tracks and updates volunteer hours, ensures that all supplies, such as books, paper, crayons, and computer tablets are prepared and ready for the day. Ms. Legowski, who teaches the class, said “Norm always comes here early to ensure things are set up, the volunteers are taken care of and we are all greeted with a warm smile. He has come here after school hours to meet with me in order to share information or problem solve issues that have come up.  Norm goes above and beyond in his devotion to this program, the volunteers and our students.  It has truly been an honor working with Norm this year.”

 

We cannot agree more here at United Way.  Thank you Norm for all you do to build Brilliant Minds for a Bright Future!

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IMG_1092 Norm Nelson & Rick Speece

United Way Partners With Banana Republic to Live United

“Retail Therapy”

Cause I ain’t got a pencil
By Joshua T. Dickerson

I woke myself up
Because we ain’t got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights ain’t on
Even got my baby sister ready
Cause my mama wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
Cause I ain’t got a pencil.

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Our children’s success depends on a number of factors outside of actual classroom content, including access to the most basic school and living supplies. As Joshua Dickerson reveals in his poem, “Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil,” often students at our Title 1 schools are facing additional obstacles in life that might affect their ability to comprehend their lessons while in school and practice skills learned at school. Providing basic needs to our children is vital for ensuring they are reading on grade level.

United Way of Manatee County and Banana Republic Factory Store employees at the Ellenton Outlet Mall have teamed up to provide such basic needs. In September, Banana Republic employees held a school supply drive, which benefited one of United Way’s ReadingPals classrooms. Over the last few months, employees launched a sock and undies drive – items that are sorely missing among our families that are often mobile or are struggling to make ends meet. The lead on these projects, Leah Travis, commented about the sheer cost of providing such basic clothing supplies to our children. “The costs really started to add up for even the smallest children’s socks and undies. And to think – children grow so quickly! Can you imagine having more than one child, all of them whose sizes change every few months?” These basic needs are even more difficult to provide for our families who must change living situations frequently due to a number of reasons beyond our children’s control.

Partnering with UWMC and Banana Republic is the Manatee School District’s Graduation Enhancement Technicians (GETs) who conduct home visits with families. The donated socks and undies will be dispersed in a confidential manner to those who know our families’ needs. Thanks to this partnership, our children can have essential clothing that, as Leah ensured, is as special as other children’s.  “I made sure to get designs and cool colors,” Leah explained. “Why should these children be denied Superman and lime green items; we want them to feel these are as special as they are.”

Indeed our children are all special and United Way of Manatee County continues to fight for the health, financial stability, and education for every member of our community. Thank you to Banana Republic and the “Be What’s Possible” program through Gap Incorporated as well as our Graduation Enhancement Technicians who are on the ground every day fighting for our children.

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As we reflect on 2016…

Something we learned from speaking with more than 400 community members is that people want to find ways to connect with one another. There is not enough communication and even less appreciation for the value of the diversity that exists among us, the challenges we face and the triumphs we experience. How can we change that? The quote above gives us our first clue. When we give of ourselves, truly give, we not only feel better, it also makes it impossible to disengage. In order to give in the way that changes lives, we need to learn about the challenge, have a reason for the why, and invest in the outcome.

We are grateful every day for the many community members and organizations who put self aside and give generously to support community. By creating access to opportunities for all, we strengthen the whole … and find that path to connectivity that we all crave. Every one of us has something to give. Time, that non-renewable resource is a most treasured gift. Advocacy, the ability to use our voice, whatever platform we may have, to speak up for one other. Resources, actual dollar investments that will be amplified when used to address tough challenges voiced by community.

As we reflect on 2016 and raise our eyes and hopes toward 2017, consider… What is in your bag of ‘gifts?’ How will you truly give to change community?

Please accept our deepest gratitude for investing in community through United Way as we fight together for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community we serve.

To make an End of Year Donation, click HERE

Happy Holidays from United Way of Manatee County

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The United Way of Manatee County wishes you a wonderful holiday season. We fight every day for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Manatee County. During this holiday season, we will continue to LIVE UNITED.

Can we Pick the Book!?!?!?

can-we-pick-the-book-1024x6831Thomas’s eyes went immediately to the book with wheels! They were black and shiny, and they actually moved! As we sat down to read during the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) Book Drive kickoff at Barnes and Noble, I was ready. I had even brought my own copy of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It is one of my favorites to this day. I am not sure if that is because I remember my dad reading it, or because I know it frightened me at first. But, over time, I learned to love it in all of its warmth and mischief.

But here was Thomas. He was determined. “Can we pick the book!?!?” he asked multiple times. As I reluctantly said yes — I have some guilt when realizing that my first thoughts went to how to convince him that he really wanted to hear the book I wanted to read — something of the look in his eye and his enthusiasm for the firefighter book, caused me to stop and pivot.

“When children choose their own books, it is a declaration of independence as a reader and a commitment to a new journey.” Reading is Fundamental

We decided to sit on the floor and were joined by two younger girls. As I worked on mustering up my own enthusiasm for a book that ‘simply’ labeled the different fire trucks and reasons for their use, Thomas was so excited that he could not sit still. We began the read with Thomas showing us how the book moved and rolled all around the stage. During the read he was jumping up, pointing out trucks, fire hoses, fireman hats, fireman boots — and those wheels!

When we finished, with enthusiasm still high, it was on to another, The Itty Bitty Kitty. As we learned, the Kitty was not Itty, nor was it Bitty. It was big, purple, and full of mischief. Coincidentally, also in a firehouse which was of great interest to Thomas.

By the time the read-aloud was finished, my perspective had changed. I thought I was showing up to share my love of reading and raise awareness of its importance, but Max, from Where the Wild Things Are, was no longer in the plan. Life is a funny thing. What actually happened? Thomas shared his love of reading and showed me just how it’s done — with enthusiasm, whimsy, and interest. I received a critical reminder that it is important not to stifle a child’s enthusiasm because you think you have a better lesson. It is important to listen, engage, and meet children where they are. When I set ego and plans aside, magical things happened.

The SCGLR has many opportunities for us to engage in the community to ensure that our children are reading on grade-level by the time they leave third grade: a key indicator of high school graduation success. We hope you will find ways to engage that work for you. However, as you consider what you will do, think of Thomas. We all have different ways of hearing, seeing, learning, and engaging. The beauty of a movement is that we can “do the best we can” and try things outside of our comfort zone in order to meet our community where we are.

Onward!

A Child’s Right to Literacy

Thanksgiving and Easter morning, my siblings and I would race to the living room to see what treasures awaited us and would find new books with personalized inscriptions lined across the top of our piano. As a young child, it struck me as odd that my parents would give books rather than showering us with candy like our friends’ parents. As adults, my siblings (a radiologist and a professor) and I recall this tradition as our family favorite and these moments together as key to igniting a love for education and building personal relationships.

Not all of our children are lucky enough to associate such positive and loving memories with reading. It is estimated that more than 61% of low-income families do not have a single book in their home. To me, this statistic is both sobering and completely unacceptable in a country that builds an identity on the idea that equal opportunity can exist for all. How, dare I ask, can a child grasp concepts learned at school without access to materials at home to practice? In a world where critical thinking, concise writing, extensive vocabularies, and fast-paced analysis is expected in the workplace, how can we expect our children to obtain these skills without the simple presence of the resources needed to obtain grade-level reading? These questions have haunted me since moving to Florida four years ago where I abruptly realized that, although my intentions at community outreach were always executed with the most positive intent, I had much to learn about the realities of the A.L.I.C.E. families outside my Iowa bubble.

This Thanksgiving, I want to give my thanks first to all those who recognize the importance of reading within their own families. Secondly, I want to thank the many in our community who recognize that all our children have the right to develop literacy skills and form memories around the wonder of reading.

I specifically want to thank the United Way of Manatee County ReadingPals volunteer family at the six Title 1 schools across Manatee County. ReadingPals meet with their students once a week to read together. They then help the students personalize books that they will take home every week after writing their names inside. Our volunteers far surpass the simple act of “reading” to a child. They ask questions, developing the children’s comprehension and deepening their ability to observe and analyze. ReadingPals create a bond with their students. They develop the type of memories for our children that connect the pleasure and love of reading with the care and compassion of an adult. This year, our ReadingPals families even developed crafts with the children and held important conversations about being thankful.

Every year, I am grateful for the love of my own family. This year, I am grateful for the love, compassion, and drive of my ReadingPals family and all those involved in bringing this program to fruition. A program that, frankly, not only addresses the need to help our children read at grade-level, but also has created memories associated with reading that our children so desperately deserve. I am thankful to the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and specifically to the United Way of Manatee County because I am allowed every day to help our children build these memories.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. May you have the time to build a special memory of your own and even, perhaps, do a little reading.
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When we fight alone, we all lose.

Easy. Sometimes I think we don’t understand the meaning of the word. We say it is easy to step back, step away from challenges and convince ourselves that somebody else will take on that responsibility, ensure a positive outcome. Easy to stay in our own space, do what we do, safeguard our limited resources and keep what is mine while somebody else takes on a challenge we all agree exists. We are too busy, too frustrated, too ‘put out’ to ensure that the ideals we hold or the outcomes to which we aspire now belong in the hands of another, because it is easier, the path of least resistance, to take it from here.

The problem with that is that it is NOT easy. Easy is rare, elusive.

When we disengage, we make it that much harder to progress. Voice, intellect, talent, vision and ‘hands’ are lost to the effort. Easy ‘happens’ when everybody perceives a win — not because their agenda was pushed forward in their way, but because we all see value in a shared goal and the path to its achievement. It’s easy because the result is that we believe we have moved forward on a challenge in such a way that everybody understands the why and has invested in the how.

When United Way says that we fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community we serve… we know that the we is always collective. We know that when we fight alone, we all lose. We know that tough challenges are complex and tough solutions are even more complex — however, working together, we can make the hard decisions that help us to understand how to engender change, change that will last for generations because it was imagined by the whole.

Just as our democracy is not built and sustained by any one person, community is not built and sustained by any one person, organization, leader. We do not have the ‘luxury’ of abdicating our responsibility to one another because we do not agree with somebody’s opinion, approach, mission. It is our moral imperative as part of a pluralistic society to seek to understand, learn and grow together. We must find ways to integrate multiple voices, outlooks, vision into community level and national solutions. We do not all have to agree or assimilate, in order to move forward, but we all benefit by agreeing not to take the ‘easy’ way out.

As we begin to move forward, my hope is that we will bring our considerable individual talents, abilities, insights and leadership together and find workable solutions to:

Our children not reading on grade level by the end of third grade (currently half do not meet that benchmark in Manatee County) and are at high risk of not graduating from high school ready for life: Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Our individuals and families who are ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) who are working hard every day and still struggling to make ends meet — one crisis away from instability (currently 43% of our community members)
Our community members who have limited access to health supports that ensure thrivability
If you are wondering where to begin, consider this…

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Author Unknown

We look forward to engaging together! Join the movement at uwmanatee.org