United Way’s “Literacy and Justice for All” initiative majorly improves reading and comprehension abilities in children across Greater Atlanta.

literacy and justice for all
September 20, 2023

With the aim of eventually reaching each child in the Greater Atlanta community, LJFA guides children through reading proficiency from the third trimester of pregnancy to the end of the third grade.

Funded by the United Way of Greater Atlanta with support from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, LJFA is a citywide initiative guided by experts at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. 

The program uses a pedagogy known as the Science of Reading, which is being interwoven in all aspects of early learning, including perinatal care through partnerships with Wellstar-Kennestone and Grady Hospitals.

“This is not a just a program. It really is actualizing research in practice and applying research in the classroom,” says Cori Cain, Associate Vice President of Early Learning and Development at United Way. 

The United Way’s 2023 Child Well-Being Outlook: Insights for Impact Report found that there is a great need for academic recovery post-COVID. Each of the 13 counties that make up Greater Atlanta saw a decrease in third grade reading proficiency from 2019 to 2022. Studies show that the ability to read proficiently by third grade is a reliable indicator of future success in academics and, consequently, transitioning from school to the workforce.

The fact of the matter is, COVID didn’t cause lower literacy levels — it exacerbated an already widespread issue that affects more than just Greater Atlanta. That’s why the success of the Science of Reading through LJFA is so groundbreaking. 

Marietta City Schools have acted as a test site of sorts, with United Way investing $2.5 million into getting the program off the ground for the school system.

Kimberly Blass, Chief Impact Officer for MCS, explains the organizations far reach, “The United Way is investing in all of it, and it’s huge because it’s all the pieces coming together to build that ecosystem. And that’s what’s so important with this. It’s not just what’s happening in one school. It’s our school district.”

MCS started implementing the program in Fall of 2021 — the first semester for in-person learning since COVID shook the world of public education. This was taxing not just for the students but for the teachers, too. Two years later, you can see the results.

MCS’s 2023 Milestone scores are so impressive, you almost have to do a double take; they saw third grade reading score growth five times larger than both state and metro Atlanta scores. The growth marks the highest mean scale score for MCS since the implementation of the Milestones in 2015. 

“I’m trying to imagine what [the teachers] used to do before they did this because it’s just, it’s everything. And it is all-consuming,” says Blass. “If you’re a child-facing adult in Marietta, you understand the Science of Reading.”

“To see this unprecedented growth, it was necessary to change our approach to reading instruction. We didn’t need to buy another program,” says Superintendent Grant Rivera. “We needed to believe in and follow the research about how to develop the reading brain. We invested in our educators, and the results are clear: Our efforts are not just closing the literacy gap; they’re striving to eliminate it.”

According to United Way, only 1 in 5 kids are reading proficiently in neighborhoods with low child well-being. If implemented on a mass scale, the Science of Reading has the potential to drastically change children’s lives across Greater Atlanta. 

In 2022, United Way invested almost $14 million into programs and initiatives to improve early learning. Investments like these aren’t possible without your support. Help unlock the potential of children, families, and communities today by donating to the United Way’s Child Well-Being Mission Fund

This story was previously published on SaportaReport.com.