STEPHANIE BRAY: Our City, Our Year, Our Time to Help Children

Stephanie Bray President & CEO  United Way California Capital Region

Stephanie Bray
President & CEO
United Way California Capital Region

OPINION – Last year in his annual State of the City address, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson reminded us all of a grave challenge facing our city.

“The vast majority of schools in Sacramento did not make Adequate Yearly Progress in 2012,” he reported. “Today, in Sacramento, only 37 percent of our third-graders can read on grade level. Thirty-seven percent. That means 63 percent cannot read and research shows that 74 percent of them will never catch up.”

The mayor has shown great leadership by refusing to accept this and by creating programs like the Sacramento Reads! to help children read at grade level by the end of third grade. He promised that the entire Sacramento community would “work together to become the first city in the nation where all students can read at grade level by the end of third grade.”

This is important because that is the critical age when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Those who do not meet this important milestone may face lifelong and serious disadvantages, especially when it comes to academic excellence and career options.

We are proud to represent very important stakeholders working toward this vision: our city’s libraries and the United Way California Capital Region. We believe that everyone has a role to play in helping the mayor’s dream become a reality. Businesses, civic groups, charities and schools can help pitch in to make a difference. Many Sacramento organizations are doing just that.

That’s why we’re so excited to see our hometown team do its part. The Sacramento Kings have pledged to donate 2014-2015 season ticket deposits to local reading and literacy initiatives. The initiative hopes to raise as much as $100,000 by March 3 to support a number of important local reading programs: United Way’s STAR Readers project; the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE)’s Preschool Bridging Model+; Sacramento READS! and the Sacramento Public Library.

At United Way California Capital Region, we are investing the donation in our STAR Readers project to help local children read at grade level by the end of third grade. The Kings’ donation will mean that dozens of children who have been put on a waiting list will now be able to benefit from the program.

At the Sacramento Public Library, we are investing the donation toward delivering more than 1,300 programs annually to children under the age of five.

These programs serve more than 65,000 children, their parents and caregivers by preparing them for reading through play, music, stories and fun. The Kings’ donation will also help secure tablets for every location, providing children with appropriate learning apps and tools, making the work of getting ready to read fun, and helping children develop a lifelong passion for the written word. Access to 21st Century tools means that our children will develop 21st Century skills, allowing them to keep in our rapidly changing world.

It was exciting to hear Mayor Johnson return to his pledge in his 2014 State of the City address. “This is our year,” he proclaimed.

And he’s right. This is our city, our year and our time to help  children learn to read and read to learn. As Cesar Chavez famously said, “you cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read.”

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Stephanie McLemore Bray is the president and CEO of United Way California Capital Region. Rivkah Sass is the director of the Sacramento Public Library System.