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*Region 17 is one of 20 regional service organizations created by the Texas Legislature and the Texas Board of Education in 1965. All Lubbock area school districts are located in Region 17.
For years, the Lubbock Area United Way has been committed to furthering early childhood education and literacy. This commitment was furthered by establishing the priorities listed above. By establishing events and initiatives such as United We Read and Start Smart Texas, Lubbock Area United Way continues to bring awareness to the importance of reading to and with children.
“The architecture of a child’s brain is built during his or her first 1,000 days, laying a foundation for long-term learning, health and behaviors. A weak foundation can have lasting impacts well into adulthood.” (Children at Risk)
Start Smart Texas
In 2019, Lubbock became one of 13 Texas cities that have joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) collaborative in an effort to improve reading proficiency and early school success for children from low-income families. This campaign is supported by a partnership of Lubbock Area United Way, Lubbock ISD, Frenship ISD, and Lubbock-Cooper ISD, with plans to expand the coalition over the next year. Events like the annual United We Read event will be a key component of this collaboration.
Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical milestone toward high school graduation and success later in life because it marks the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” “Children who reach fourth grade without being able to read proficiently are more likely to struggle academically and eventually drop out of school.” (Kids Count)
Membership in the CGLR Network gives Lubbock access to experts and policymakers focused on early school success, assistance in addressing the challenges that keep many children from learning to read, and access to the online Community Learning for Impact & Improvement Platform (CLIP), which is designed to lower the barriers and costs associated with spreading information about what’s working, why and under what conditions.
“High-quality preschool programs for 3- to 4-year-olds help set the stage for future skill development and well-being and learning, particularly for those from low-income households. These programs play an important role an preparing children for success and lead to higher levels of educational attainment, career advancement and earnings.” (Kids Count) Yet, the price of infant care today is higher than public college tuition in most states. (American Progress) Lack of affordable childcare forces many parents to leave work, change jobs, or turn down job offers because of childcare obligations. Many more end up leaving their children with untrained family members or other caretakers due to lack of options.
Of the 5,743 students assessed in Region 17, 55% were deemed Kindergarten ready in the 2018-2019 school year. (TEA)
The Early Learning Centers of Lubbock is the only childcare centers in Lubbock whose parent fees are based on a sliding fee scale, making quality childcare affordable to all parents. Of the families served in 2019, 68% say they have a better understanding of their child’s development and 95% of parents read to their children at least once a week which leads to advanced brain and education development.
Economically Disadvantaged Children
Despite a slight drop in the 2017-2018 school year, Region 17 is once again showing significant numbers of economically disadvantaged children for the 2018-2019 school year. The current 63.2% rate is consistently higher than the state average of 60.6%.
Research shows growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy childhood development. “It increases the likelihood that a child will be exposed to factors that can impair brain development and lead to poor academic, cognitive, and health outcomes.” (Kids Count)
This is also significantly higher among different ethnic groups. “In 2017, the poverty rate among African-American and American Indian children (33% for both) was three times the rate for white and Asian and Pacific Islander children (11% for both). The poverty rate for Latino children (26%) was higher than the national average.” (Kids Count)
Despite improvements across the region and state, Region 17 continues to fall 3-4% behind the state average in the number of students who are scoring at approaching grade level, meeting grade level and above grade level. Our community should be watching these results closely after cancellation of 2019-2020 STAAR tests due to COVID-19. It is too soon to tell how this pandemic and the months of school-from-home will impact educational success for K-12 students.
On a positive note, there have been consistent improvements in graduation rates. “85% of high school students graduated on time in the 2016-2017 school year, the nation’s graduation rate reached an all-time high.” (Kids Count)
During the 2018-2019 school year, Communities in Schools of the South Plains provided case management services to 2,350 at-risk students, with 100% staying in school, 94% improving in academics, and 99% promoted to the next grade.
Beyond the Classroom
Another key component of childhood success comes from identifying other learning, social, and emotional needs that may be barriers to academic achievement. Research indicates that providing mentors or adult advocates for at-risk students is an effective strategy. Going beyond the classroom through partnerships with other organizations can help bridge the gaps the public education system lacks the resources to address.
Agencies such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boy Scouts, Lubbock Boys & Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, Guadalupe-Parkway Neighborhood Centers, and United Way Youth Division through the Volunteer Center of Lubbock take student support beyond the classroom to help vulnerable students in need.
Adult literacy is key to a sustainable society. When individuals have the basic education they need for day-to-day life, they have the power to lift themselves out of poverty, find and keep sustainable employment, and ultimately take control of their lives.
Literacy Lubbock executes and supports programs that enable people to become literate on the South Plains. Over 400 individuals were assisted in 2019 through their Tiny Tots, English as a Second Language, GED Study, and Adult Basic Education programs.
Lubbock County has a 13% adult literacy rate. (Texas Center for Advancement of Literacy and Learning)