Research has shown that third grade reading proficiency is a powerful predictor of later academic achievement. Children are learning to read until third grade, yet after, they are reading to learn. Because of the number of young children in our community who are below proficiency in reading, it’s important to support and participate in opportunities to help them reach their highest academic potential so they can succeed in school and life.
“My student was not into tutoring when we first started and by the end of it he was reading 6 books per session,” mentioned one tutor. “It was a struggle but I thought it was important to show him to not give up.” A committed and kind-hearted tutor, willing to give their time, can help make the difference in a child’s education.
From 2016-17 to 2017-18, the overall percent of third graders in our community who are grade-level proficient in reading dropped from 45% to 39%. To increase proficiency, Kenosha has a program that works with students who are below grade level. In 2017, United Way recruited 74 tutors for their Readers Are Leaders program. This year they have 200 tutors. Not only that, but the program has expanded from its flagship location at McKinley Elementary to now being available at Wilson Elementary, Brass Community School, and Forest Park Elementary for the 2018-2019 school year, all in Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD).
Community members who have been tutoring this year have also been given a lot of support in being a part of this program. “Having been a mentor with KUSD for years it was surprising how different Readers Are Leaders is,” Bunny Stoops, another tutor, said. “I really appreciated the training handouts and found them useful when I went to the school.”
Now that we’re into the new school year, United Way’s Readers Are Leaders are looking for additional motivated individuals who have 40 minutes to spare during the week to volunteer with our kindergarteners, making sure they have the best start in learning to read. Kindergarten tutors will start in February, but applications for kindergarten tutors will be available now until Friday, January 4th, 2019, with training on January 21st.
How To Get Involved
Over the years, Kenosha County has been booming in different industries. From Amazon, Uline, Jockey, Snap-on Incorporated, Froedtert South, Kenall Manufacturing and so many more; there are many opportunities in a variety of fields for individuals to get a start in. According to a recent survey done by the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA), the positions that companies identified as their most critical positions of need included positions like welders, maintenance repair, accountants, CNC operators, truck drivers and production planners. With multiple hospitals and health care facilities, there’s always a need for CNA’s and other positions in the health field.
What’s great about these positions is that many of them either offer training through hire or require qualifications that can easily be met through some postsecondary education at schools like Gateway Technical College that have programs for more labor intensive jobs. For example, Gateway has multiple apprenticeships where students can work for money and learn the skills they need for their career. They have a maintenance mechanic/maintenance repair apprenticeship where students over the course of four years can gain about 8,000 hours of on-the-job training with at a minimum 576 hours of paid related experience. The income outlook is between $14.50-35.27 hour salary. To be a part of this program, students have to be 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and be physically able to perform trade.
If a student is interested in working in the medical field where they can help those in need of care, Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) offers an incredible program to students at junior and senior level standing who want to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) by taking the courses offered at Tremper and Indian Trail. KUSD made this program available due to a crisis and shortage of qualified workers in the healthcare field, the specific requirements in the nursing program, and because KUSD wants to promote Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to help students earn a living wage. After course completion (3 credits) there is a $125 exam fee. Once completing and passing the exam, students receive their CNA certification from the state of Wisconsin and can then sign up for Youth Apprenticeship.
How to get involved
From May 2007 to May 2016, 1.9 million occupations were added in the healthcare field requiring postsecondary education for entry. This includes nurses who require a bachelor's degree and doctors or dentists who require a doctoral or professional degree.
Credentials are a way companies can measure one’s knowledge. There’s only so much one can see or assume on a resume about someone’s knowledge and what they can or can’t do, so credentials are way to relate one’s human capital and give some value. In a knowledge driven economy, credentials equal skill.
“If you look at the lifetime earnings data, the more post-secondary education individuals have, the greater their earnings tend to be. These lifetime earnings typically far exceed the cost of a higher education,” according to Dr. Robert Ducoffe, Provost and Vice Chancellor at University of Wisconsin-Parkside.“That doesn’t mean that people don’t struggle to afford college, it just means it’s still a really good investment. There are also studies that show that people who earn a higher education are more active in their communities, vote at higher rates, are more satisfied, generally, with their lives, and healthier, and they tend to pass these traits on to their children.
“Regarding enrolling in college right after high school, the data here are clear as well. The longer an individual postpones going to college after high school, the less likely they are to complete a college degree. Life has a tendency to get in the way of focusing on higher education as people get older, marry, have children, work full-time, etc.”
Not all students want a four-year degree. However, many careers that previously did not require a postsecondary credential now do. Beyond a four-year degree, there are a number of options to consider in different fields—many of which are cost efficient. Gateway Technical College has, for example, programs for those interested in going into a more hands on field, like the HVAC/R associate’s degree. In the two year program, students get to work with two homes working with radiant heat in floors, ductwork systems, and high velocity systems.
Even a career to become an esthetician or barber requires schooling that may include courses like chemistry or english. When deciding what one enjoys doing with their time be it their passion or skills that they enjoy practicing, looking into the requirements and educational degrees needed for that can help in preparing oneself early on to reach those goals.
How to Get Involved
Completing high school is usually a long awaited accomplishment for individuals, especially since many students have already been in a school setting for about 14-15 years by the time they graduate. So some may wonder, why continue education if they have already completed the degree they were promised would secure their future?
Completing high school is just one of many steps towards growth and development as an adult. People are typically finishing their high school degree around the age of 18. At this age, they are first being recognized as an adult rather than a child in the eyes of the government. Meaning: now the age requirement on many jobs is no longer affecting them, and it may seem like their future possibilities are endless. However, by 2020, it is estimated that 62% of Wisconsin jobs will require some sort of post-secondary education or credential. Along with that, those in Kenosha County without these credentials are twice as likely to be in poverty. This could potentially hinder opportunities students have after graduating high school if they choose not to continue their education towards completing some sort of post-secondary credential.
According to our Baseline report last year, only 35% of economically disadvantaged students and 54% of their not economically advantaged counterparts in Kenosha County enrolled in postsecondary education following their completion of high school. Not only that, but only 35% of Kenosha’s population has an Associates degree or higher, compared to 40% of Wisconsin’s population. These data points show us where we as a community stand in our educational fields and help give us a perspective on the life and opportunities our future generations have in their own community. We have the opportunity to raise these statistics and provide more of the choices students believe they have after completing high school.
If a student still hasn’t registered for school, it isn’t too late. There are a variety of different educational pathways students can pursue following the completion of high school. Gateway Technical College is always accepting applications and there’s even an opportunity to enroll while you’re still in high school. Want to get a taste of what college is like? Students who’ve completed 10th grade in KUSD and other schools throughout Kenosha County have the opportunity to enroll in the Early College Credit Program (ECCP) where they can take courses at UW-Parkside or Carthage College while still attending high school. With the completion of the course, the student will also receive college credit for that class at no extra charge.
In Kenosha County, high school graduates make at least $10,000 more than those who did not finish and are 42% more likely to be employed. We as a community have the opportunity to make a difference in the generations to come by providing them the tools, resources, knowledge, and motivation they need to succeed.
The current four year high school completion rate in Kenosha County is 88%, but this is not the case for all students. Although fairly high, only 80% of economically disadvantaged students graduate in four years, compared to their counterparts at 93%; and Black and Hispanic students graduate at rates of 75% and 84%, respectively, compared to their White counterparts at 92%.
Currently, only 11% of jobs don’t require a high school degree or more. Applicants for positions in carpentry, in the warehouse at Uline, or part-time in customer service at Gander Mountain are all expected to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent (GED). By 2025, it’s estimated that 62% of jobs will require some kind of post-secondary credential. To continue in postsecondary education, whether it is getting certified as a CNA, esthetician, or earning a 4-year degree in any field—a high school diploma or GED is almost always required.
Each step along the way is integral to graduation. A student not proficient in reading by third grade is 4 times less likely to graduate high school, and a student who passes algebra by the end of ninth grade is 75% more likely to graduate. Helping young students believe in their potential to understand math can make a huge impact on their future.
Regardless of whether a student is meeting these requirements, there are opportunities in our community to increase high school completion. The Boys & Girls Club offers children of all ages a safe space for physical activity and homework support. Conversations about careers and education can begin at any age, and using a resource like Career Cruising, an online tool, can help. A community united around a shared goal of increasing high school completion will lead to better outcomes for both our children and our community.
Words might be one of the most powerful tools we as humans have. As a partnership whose role is to bring our Kenosha County community together to improve student outcomes, we know words have the power to inspire people together towards action, or to divide and “other” groups that are different from us. When phrases are embedded in our everyday language, it can be difficult to take a step back and think about the broader meaning behind the words. But, we believe that using continuous improvement and being reflective in our work is the only way for us to move forward.
That’s why we encourage you to consider flipping a script that you may not even know that you have, and that we’ve also used. In education, it has become widely understood that there is an “achievement gap” that exists. This is most often used to describe the difference in academic outcomes between student groups--typically, between white students and students of color. Now, it is helpful to have a common language so that when people come together to create solutions, everyone is on the same page sooner and can help move the conversation further. And, we want to make certain that we’re creating positive narratives that will encourage all our Kenosha County students to achieve their full potential.
In recent years, some have suggested replacing “Achievement Gap” with “Opportunity Gap.” The word “Achievement” very subtly attributes lower rates of academic success to the students themselves, or to the schools, rather than to the unequal and inequitable distribution of educational opportunities to different student groups and neighborhoods. This shift may also change our mindsets as we work together to identify solutions that lead to more equitable outcomes. Opportunities for students to choose and own books in their own home, attend high-quality early childhood education, participate in summer camps, and build relationships with adults with varying careers and post-secondary credentials, all have a compounding effect on a student’s achievement over their lifetime.
The issue, therefore, is an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap. Our hope is that this re-frame will inspire us to continue working together towards systems change--leading to systems where all of our students have access to equitable opportunities to support and promote their learning and success.
How You Can Help:
The past couple decades have seen an increase in an interest in data and its use—indeed, Google searches for “Analytics” are 6.5 times what they were in 2004, and the term “Big Data” only started appearing en masse in searches around 2010. While data analysis can be very powerful, to many, data is still unapproachable and tends to over-generalize its findings. This is why context around data is as important as the data analysis it informs, and it is usually why an analysis can miss the mark.
This is the case especially in education. Regardless of a child’s age, differences in development, personal life, and learning styles abound, making general statements a very precarious undertaking. If I told you that students from lower income backgrounds tend to perform worse academically, one might think that individuals with less money simply do worse in school. In reality, however, this speaks nothing about the individual, rather it speaks to factors associated with lower incomes that might cause a student to do worse in school—like poor nutrition, inability to attend school on a regular basis due to varying reasons, or a host of other circumstantial influences.
In order to address this, Building Our Future has created data teams comprised of professionals that work specifically with and for each of our educational networks. These four work teams focus on developing systems around data use to advance Building Our Future’s vision within the areas of kindergarten readiness (the Smart Beginnings Network), Early Grade Reading, Community Engagement, and, the newest network area, High School Completion, Postsecondary Success, and Career Readiness. Meeting for an hour each month, they discuss the appropriate use of data to support what professionals in the field are doing and create analytics to guide their strategy.
Data is the way of the future—there’s no doubting that. It’s power, though, cannot be understated, nor can it be used lightly. In working together, Kenosha County can affect the systems and language around its data to make the outcomes of our children better and more equitable for years to come.
Ways to Get Involved:
My personal mission statement is “Create safe places for people to live into their genius.” Building Our Future’s work speaks to that. In my life, I am most grateful for those who provide a safe place for me to be all I can be.
I believe everyone has a unique genius and, with the right support and hard work, they can live into it, making the positive impact our world needs.
My soul aches when I think of the child, capable of making the next major medical breakthrough but, because of circumstances out of their control, they will never get the chance. I am driven by joy when I think of my father, a high school dropout, who had a community that saw something in him he could not, supporting him in building a successful company that has made a positive difference for many.
Coming to Kenosha has been a blessing for me, my family, and our business. I am grateful to those who came before and had a grand vision for our future and I do not take their hard work and civic responsibility for granted.
In previous generations, they saw a need for a bank, a hospital, a social security office, a business park, and on and on, so they built them. They had full lives but made the time to take on a bigger, community-focused vision that included more than their personal success.
Building Our Future is a vision for the next generation. Too many of our children are falling through the cracks, and it affects every one of us. It affects the future and will take an entire community committing to change. Schools can’t do it alone.
For me, Building Our Future is a way to pay forward the blessings I have been given by this community. It is a way for Kenosha County to be all it can be.
A thriving future will require the genius of every child, and we must create an infrastructure that provides for that.
The vision “EVERYONE ACHIEVING PERSONAL POTENTIAL CRADLE TO CAREER” is a real possibility. For me, it’s a vision worth spending the rest of my life on.
In the words of Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The buzz in recent years on the importance of early childhood has been roaring. Young children’s brains are producing 1 million new neural connections per second in the first few years of life, and we now understand the bigger picture of why we need to set families up for success from very early-on. Research has shown that investing in quality care and programming at this young age, specifically for our most disadvantaged children, leads to a 13% return on investment annually. Kenosha County residents of all generations, and our economy, would benefit widely from this return. This is the work of our Smart Beginnings Network.
Dr. Diane Gerlach, pediatrician at Aurora Health Care and champion of this work, demonstrates this. “When children are struggling early on, they tend to have behavior problems. This adds stress to the parent who may also be struggling with parenting, and it bleeds over to their [employment] with poor productivity and attendance. Identifying problem areas early allows for early treatment, which decreases their struggles and behavior problems, which decreases parent stress. This creates better current and future employees.” Smart Beginnings brings together community partners to directly address the importance of early childhood through alignment of programs and systems.
This group has launched its collaborative action approach by aligning with childcare centers and equipping them with the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3), a developmental screening tool. Childcare centers get trained to educate parents and caregivers about developmental milestones and provide them with activities to help their child thrive. Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, so when parents understand the importance of reading, talking, and playing with their child, it can result in significant gains in developmental outcomes. Regular screenings can also ensure that families receive needed interventions early. When parents are supported, they can be more present and productive employees, residents, and leaders in our community. Businesses and our overall economy are then poised to profit.
We are already seeing small wins with this alignment. The number of reported ASQ-3s in Kenosha County has doubled over this time last year, resulting in more children receiving necessary interventions earlier. Suzi Wolf, Early Intervention Program Manager at KAC, shares, “Providing services before a child is school age is more effective and less costly because the developing brain is the most capable of change.” Is this an investment we can afford not to make?
How You Can Help
The success of this work depends on stakeholders of all shapes and sizes. Consider: