How Community Reading Models Bridge the Literacy Funding Gap

We’ve all heard the expression “less is more,” and while this may be true for decadent chocolate cake and Grandma’s collection of knick-knacks, it is certainly not true for literacy program models. More is more. Having many stakeholders—from parents to classroom teachers to community partners—engaged in a literacy program increases the likelihood of academic success for students.

Perhaps the most exciting unexpected benefit of more stakeholders is the potential for additional funding. When more community partners, more families, and more school leaders are engaged in literacy programs, the floodgates open for stronger collaborative funding opportunities to sustain academic success. 

Community-based Models

One strategy for gaining more stakeholders and more funding for literacy programs is the community-based model. Successful community models look beyond the traditional school-based curriculum to include multiple supports and resources that meet the needs of the whole child. Often, this includes programming for extended learning windows, the child’s health and wellness, and the family of the child. Community models typically rely on support from an integrated web of organizations including the school system, nonprofit and community-based organizations, and public or private businesses or foundations.

So, how specifically can a community-based model result in more funding for literacy needs? There are several channels that offer both academic and funding links.

 Early Childhood Literacy, Two-Generation Literacy, and Family Literacy

The Academic Link: A growing body of research shows that literacy success starts at a young age. Exposure in toddler years to a broad vocabulary and being read to aloud are significant factors in a child’s development of literacy in elementary years. Children, especially those from low-income households, have better odds of long-term academic success when they have access to formal early childhood education. 

Literacy models that foster parent involvement in early childhood literacy also show long-term success, according to recent studies cited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Early childhood programs, such as AVANCE’s parent-child education program, include components that offer parent engagement and family literacy through a two-generation approach so that both parents and their children benefit.

In some community-based literacy models, K-12 schools host literacy nights to foster a culture of reading in families and the community. By providing online access to high-quality digital literacy, school districts are assured that students and their families have materials that spark a love of reading.

The Funding Link: Early childhood literacy programs and family literacy programs not only raise the chances of academic success, but they open the doors to more funding opportunities. Funding to support a comprehensive literacy program can come from a host of sources including: 

Community Partnerships Strengthen Literacy Success and Funding 

The Academic Link: Silos are good for grain, but not so good for a child’s literacy skills. When community organizations partner with school districts to enrich and expand literacy programming, the results can be stunning. One strong example of community-based models is New York City and its growing Community Schools program, which is now the largest in the nation. The bedrock of the program is collaborative partnerships between schools and community-based organizations to engage parents, offer extended learning time, expand academic programming, and provide support for health and wellness. The initial success of this model led the city to expand to 69 new schools in the 2017-18 school year. The 69 newly-designed Community Schools will partner with 25 community-based organizations to offer integrated support to students.   

Community organizations and schools work together to reduce redundancies and comingle resources to create multi-faceted solutions. For example, United Way Cleveland recently conducted a broad community assessment in order to offer greater efficiencies and more sustainable giving around a united cause. By focusing its efforts on a pressing need in the community, United Way hopes to work with its partners to tackle the issue together with a strategic, coordinated plan. Many United Way branches and Community Foundations around the country operate in similar vein 

The Funding Link: When literacy initiatives include broader community partnerships, funding opportunities expand.  Promise Neighborhoods grants are designed specifically to support a cradle-to-career continuum of support that is offered by community organizations working in collaboration with school districts. New York City’s Community Schools program utilizes funds provided by the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant to offer extended learning opportunities through schools and community organizations for students—whether it’s before or after school or during the school breaks. On the private side of funding, the New York Life Foundation offers money for collaborative, extended-learning programs through its Grants for Good initiative. 

Public/Private Partnerships Offer Solutions and Funding

The Academic Link: The education community knows pedagogy best, but the business community can supplement education programs by offering promising new solutions and a link to real-world career readiness. Partnerships with private sector groups can offer new technology solutions, real-world applications of certifications for career skills, and mentorship. The U.S. Department of Education published a guide that demonstrates the link between better reading ability and stronger stakeholder engagement from the business community.

Many districts see benefits when partnering with the private sector. Cesar Morales, Superintendent of Oxnard School District, credits the local business community with offering free WiFi and support for the district’s 1:1 initiative to boost literacy. With 90% of its students receiving free/reduced lunch, Oxnard School District has many homes lacking internet access. Free WiFi in doctors’ offices and other local businesses allows students to access high-quality reading materials outside of the school walls, while community literacy events engage students with mentors from the Rotary club and other groups.

The Funding Link: Often, community models rely on support or matching funds from private-sector groups. High-tech companies such as Intel offer multi-pronged support for K-12 education, including employee volunteers, resources for educators, and grants to support initiatives. myON, a leader in digital literacy ecosystems, partners with schools to offer resources to support a community model through expanded access to high-quality literacy materials and assistance in planning family literacy events. The New Schools Venture Fund actively seeks school and community-based partnerships for innovative, collaborative education projects. The paper-products giant Georgia Pacific operates a foundation that actively partners with schools on K-12 education, including literacy and job skills for today’s workplace. Local businesses in your community are also a potential source of funding and partnership. 

Getting Started 

It’s clear that a community approach to literacy can offer both better success for students and broader opportunities for funding. So where do you begin? The Coalition for Community Schools provides resources and policy information, as well as a directory of existing community schools. Glean best practices and strategies from the Scaling Up Guide, or ask questions in the forum to better understand how a community school model might work in your district. 

As you begin to collaborate with your broader community to build and enhance your literacy program, it will soon be clear that less is not always more. And, unlike your Grandma’s knick-knacks, you’ll be grateful to see that more is more—more partnerships, more funding, and more academic success for your students.

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