United Way Energizes Kids for Reading in Jackson County

By Ken Toll, United Way of Jackson County

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Frederick Douglass


A year ago, eight-year-old Hason thought reading was fun, but it didn’t come easy for him. Here’s how he describes his reading skill today: “I’m a really good and fast reader now. That helps your brain get better and better.”


What happened? Hason got energized.


A Dynamic Partnership

Energizing Education is a partnership initiative, led by United Way of Jackson County, that promises positive community impact through something very basic:  reading.


Energizing Education strives to bring struggling readers up to grade level proficiency by the fourth grade.  Roughly 30% of elementary students in Jackson County read below grade level. In most cases, these kids didn’t have the opportunity to build a strong foundation for literacy before starting school.


Energizing Education pairs a specially trained reading mentor with a student for one hour each week.  Mentoring occurs in a classroom equipped as a “Literacy Lounge.” A dedicated teacher staffs that room, helps identify candidates for the program, develops lesson plans and assesses students’ progress. Energizing Education also partners with parents to foster literacy at home. 


Family engagement nights have proven especially valuable. Teachers volunteer at these monthly events, which nurtures teacher-parent relationships in a relaxed, fun environment. Energizing Education is coordinated by a manager with a hospitality background and strong customer service ethic, and she utilizes a diverse and creative team to conduct these events. As many as 350 people turn up for dinner and themed events that engage families, educate them on literacy and equip them to foster reading. 


Measures of Success

Energizing Education succeeds because it’s needed, it’s well designed and it’s strongly supported across the community. For example, Cradle2Career, a network of educators, businesses, parents and other stakeholders, has rallied behind Energizing Education as a powerful tool to strengthen the educational continuum.


Another measure of success is financial support. Through a challenge made by the Dorothy Levy Literacy Endowment Fund, Energizing Education recently received $100,000 in community gifts and a matching grant from the Jackson Community Foundation.


The outcomes really tell the story. Last year, 119 students participated in Energizing Education, and 76% were reading at grade level (or above) by the summer. Currently, 126 students are being mentored by 141 people at six participating schools, and 3,292 people have attended 15 family engagement nights so far.


Stories like Hason’s show the power of Energizing Education. At United Way of Jackson County, we’re thrilled to connect our community for the common good in ways that change lives for the better!

United Way of Jackson County mobilizes the caring power of the community to provide opportunities for a better life for all Jackson County residents by focusing on helping children succeed in school, making sure families are financially stable, and helping people achieve and maintain good health. We’re on the web at uwjackson.org.