By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- They say pictures are worth 1,000 words and one nonprofit is hoping its posters of faces of elementary-age students will lead to thousands of words read and understood by county third graders.
The Learning Alliance spread the word about their focus on literacy during late January using large posters of the faces of local children to raise awareness of the Indian River County School District's ambitious goal of having 90 percent of the county's students reading at grade level by third grade by 2018.
Liz Woody, a founding member of The Learning Alliance, said 68 percent of third graders nationally are not reading at grade level and Indian River County numbers are only slightly better.
Reading proficiency is touted as the most important predictor of high- school graduation and career success.
Unlike talking, which the brain is hard-wired to observe and imitate after exposure, reading is a skill that every person and each brain, must be taught, Ms. Woody said.
"Kids go to school in kindergarten and the one thing they know they don't already know how to do is read. They know go to school to learn how to read," Ms. Woody said.
As time goes by, some students do not learn to read, or lack reading proficiency because they did not learn the basic foundations of reading well, and they end up struggling through school.
"At that point, they internalize it and it becomes 'there's something wrong with me,'" Ms. Woody said.
One of the programs The Learning Alliance has put in place in Indian River County is teacher training, helping teachers understand the basic neuro-psychological processes involved in reading and reading development.
By understanding how the brain works, teachers can adopt new methods of teaching reading to their students that will be more effective, Ms. Woody said.
Helene Caseltine, Indian River County Chamber of Commerce's economic development director, quoted a national statistic on the relationship between literacy, juvenile delinquency and the economy during a special presentation on Jan. 17 in Vero Beach.
"Eighty-five percent of the kids touching the juvenile delinquency system struggle to read at a basic level. It is estimated that the cost to taxpayers and to businesses is $20 billion per year. That's $20 billion with a 'B,'" Ms. Caseltine said.
Some states determine how many prison cells to build based on third-grade reading scores, she added.
"I thought that was shocking," Ms. Caseltine said.
The challenges of increasing literacy levels is a job too big for the education system to handle alone, so The Learning Alliance is hoping members of the community will see the signs, ask questions and want to get involved, Ms. Woody said.
"With literacy, we can develop children into productive citizens, and as a community, we all win," she said.
For more information about The Learning Alliance, visit www.thelearningalliance.org.