Celebrating Family Literacy and Education in Muskegon County
BY CHRISTINE ROBERE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNITED WAY OF THE LAKESHORE
To ensure strong communities, our students must graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education or the workforce.
This preparation starts early, with access to affordable, high-quality child-care and early learning opportunities so that children enter school ready to learn. Elementary and secondary school students must have access to a challenging, well-rounded curriculum and wraparound supports, such as afterschool and summer learning programs.
Quality education-based programs is an important strategy for improving lives and community conditions. Educational programs make up 43% of United Way of the Lakeshore funded programs, serving over 43,000 families around the Lakeshore.
Over 10,000 students enrolled in after school tutoring programs! A nationwide survey on the concerns of working mothers showed their number one concern is the safety of their children, especially in the after school hours. Providing quality supervised programming after school will go a long way in reducing the level of high-risk behavior among youth in our county. Providing resources for children will help ensure that no child is left behind academically in Muskegon County.
There are some sobering statistics relating to children according to the 2020 Kid Count in Michigan report.
• 61.2% of children receive free or reduced lunch
• $526 is the average cost of full-time child care per month in Muskegon County
• 9.6% of students in Muskegon County do not graduate, 19.6% do not graduate on time
• 45.5% of families live below the ALICE threshold
• 76% of students are not college-ready in Muskegon
• 61.4% of students are not proficient in third-grade reading
• 76.1% of students are not proficient in eighth-grade math
Barriers to access after-school programs range from transportation, volunteer capacity, lack of consistency in programming, competition from other programs, and/or costs associated with programming.
After-school programs keep kids safe, helps working families, and improve academic achievement. One in five children is unsupervised after school. Lights On Afterschool programs help provide a wide range of opportunities for our student’s growth. Many programs include opportunities for physical activity, homework assistance, snacks/meals, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) learning, music or art, literacy activities, workforce development, and family building activities.
United Way of the Lakeshore and community partners recognize that providing a range of engaging learning opportunities in high quality after school programs can play a critical role in improving young people’s chances of success both in school and in life. Businesses and, agencies, and other funders also see recognize the importance of after-school options for the growth and development of our children. “Quality youth programs are crucial because they help develop the future workforce and support the needs of our working families,” says Amy Heisser, Director at Howmet Aerospace. “We are proud to support the work of these programs to provide STEAM learning.
For decades, Lights On Afterschool, a United Way of the Lakeshore initiative, has served five sites, to combat the high rates of poverty by providing continuous opportunities in a safe environment. Students are served in our Lights On Afterschool program at Montague, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights (Pathfinders), Orchard View, and Whitehall. Before the pandemic, each site operated at least three days a week, from the end of the school day until about 6:30 p.m. Other United Way after school programs includes Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
November is Family Literacy Month!
Family literacy is all about parents and their children learning together! Family literacy programs use a family-focused approach to education, increasing the skills of the parents and the children together because a key indicator of children’s success is the literacy level of their parents.
By the age of three, children born into low-income families have heard roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. This is important because vocabulary development during the preschool years is related to later reading skills and school success in general.
Additionally, children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are more likely to get poor grades, repeat school years, or even drop out. Adults and their children must improve their literacy skills together to break the cycle of poverty.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
United Way supports literacy efforts in our community in a variety of ways, including Read Muskegon, Read Early Read Often, and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Dolly Parton's Imagination Library (DPIL) was established by Dolly Parton in 1995 to ensure that every child would have access to quality books, regardless of their family’s income.
All children under the age of five are eligible to participate in this amazing program. Each month, every registered child receives a free, brand new book through the mail, until the child turns five years old. Imagine every child having their own library of 60 books by the time they go to kindergarten! We currently have more than 6,000 children enrolled in our communities.
Bringing this program to our community takes consistent funding, with a cost of $25 per child per year. We are fortunate to have corporate and individual donors who help support this program, including a matching program by Nichols. This year, Nichols has committed to matching every donation made to DPIL up to $35,000! We are so grateful to Nichols for helping ensure that our littlest learners have a head start on a lifelong love of learning! If you would like to give the gift of reading to a child, please donate today at https://www.unitedwaylakeshore.org/dpil
Read Muskegon dedicates an entire program on Family Literacy. Read Muskegon works to eradicate poverty through holistic education solutions for families leading to improved literacy rates and job readiness.
Literacy is about more than the ability to read words. It’s about using the power of those words to change the course of your life: to participate in your community, to achieve your goals, to create a better future for your children. That is the foundation of the Project Fatherhood Book Club, a weekly gathering of fathers that engages men in reading books that provoke intense and often difficult conversations with a goal of changing life out comes for the participants, their children, and their larger community.
United Way of the Lakeshore is uniting to inspire change and build thriving communities. Our Bold Goal – 10,000 more working families meet their basic needs by 2025. For more information, contact United Way of the Lakeshore at (231) 722-3134. Learn more about United Way of the Lakeshore at UnitedWayLakeshore.org, like the organization on Facebook and receive up to date information from Twitter at twitter.com/uwlakeshore.