Reading to Grow through Attendance in Johnston County

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One way to emphasize and support the goal of ensuring children are reading proficiently on grade level at the end of third grade is to help children and their families understand the importance of regular attendance as an influential factor in the success of their education experience. 

Annual Attendance Awareness Month is September, and it brings a special focus to the importance of consistently attending school on time and being present for a full day. As conveners of the North Carolina Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (NC CGLR), the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) was especially excited to celebrate the efforts of the Partnership for Children of Johnston County’s Read to Grow campaign to build community awareness around the importance of regular school attendance. 

Everything that the Partnership for Children of Johnston County, and their community campaign Read to Grow focuses on, produces and distributes, is intentional to bring more community members to the table, thus all education and outreach materials created and shared are published in both English and Spanish.

Courtesy: Read to Grow, Partnership for Children of Johnston CountyCourtesy: Read to Grow, Partnership for Children of Johnston County

The Partnership is mindful of equity and being inclusive, no matter children’s abilities or socioeconomic status. Read to Grow creates opportunities for all children to be ready for kindergarten, have opportunities to learn and engage during the summer, and be successful in their learning journey. Target schools, which have the highest need, receive support from the campaign and include: Selma, Benson, West Smithfield, and South Smithfield Elementary Schools. 

For example, West Smithfield Elementary School sent a letter to families before the end of the 2022-2023 school year, outlining how time in school equates to academic and social success: Since every minute counts, please make sure that your student arrives on time and ready to learn every day. Research shows that students who consistently attend school are more likely to succeed academically and socially than those who are frequently absent, and we want all of our students to have every advantage when it comes to learning.

Johnston County Attendance Awareness Outreach

The Partnership has an extensive campaign to educate students and their families on the importance of regular attendance. 

Read to Grow’s Steering Committee Member Johna Faulconer asked the Johnston County Board of Commissioners to declare September 2023 as Attendance Awareness Month by signing and issuing a proclamation. She read a letter to the commissioners about the importance of this occasion and how significant it is to have an impact on the lives of children and their learning success in Johnston County. Dr. Eric Bracy, Superintendent of Johnston County Public Schools, also signed and celebrated an Attendance Awareness proclamation at a press conference, where one of the target school’s principals was being celebrated for their school’s attendance growth.

Read to Grow’s Johna Faulconer presents the opportunity to support Attendance Awareness to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, August 21, 2023; Photo Courtesy Partnership for Children of Johnston CountyJohnston County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy signing the Attendance Awareness Proclamation, September 11, 2023; Photo Courtesy Partnership for Children of Johnston County

For the second year in a row, Read to Grow created an Attendance Awareness poster contest at each of their target schools. Winners are selected from kindergarten to fifth grade. Their prize will be a Read to Grow backpack, with other prizes including an electric toothbrush, paper, paint, and other school supplies.

Principals took Attendance Awareness Month as an opportunity to remind parents how much absences translated to losses in instructional time. They circulated a customized flier, with the school logo, for each school. This reinforces the school hours so that parents are not picking up students too early; picking up a child too early can mean their attendance didn’t count for that day!

Courtesy: Read to Grow, Partnership for Children of Johnston CountyCourtesy: Read to Grow, Partnership for Children of Johnston County

Read to Grow also offers gift cards to the parents whose children have improved their attendance, recognizing that it’s parents who are putting their children first and prioritizing their responsibilities to ensure their children are in regular attendance in school.

In addition, parent listening sessions are planned at school open houses to explore the barriers to ensuring they get their children to school regularly. One social worker recently shared something that was particularly eye-opening: parents struggling with access to clean clothing is a deterrent for sending their children to school. Laundromats are expensive and not all families have access to washing and drying clothes in their own homes. So, now Read to Grow is exploring how to offer support in this area. This is a factor that may not come to mind to many people, but the cleanliness of their children’s clothing is a visual reminder of how the parents and their families are doing. 

The Read to Grow JoCo and Partnership for Children of Johnston County Facebook pages utilized social media to amplify the messages and efforts online. Be sure to give them a Like and/or Follow. 

The Partnership is regularly reaching out to other community organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, which made a donation to the Read to Grow Kindergarten Readiness Team. When Heather Machia, Early Literacy Coordinator at the Partnership, was recognized for her work with Read to Grow,  a member wrote “Everyone has an opinion, but data tells the story.” And Read to Grow is determined to make the data support their work being the most effective and having the farthest reach in the areas that need it most around Johnston County. 

Read to Grow values parents and parent voices, so nine parents are spread across three Action Teams formed around Kindergarten Readiness, School Attendance, and Summer Learning. Parents make decisions and help influence the direction of the goals within the three Action Teams. Recognizing the value of their contributions and time, these advisors are compensated for their time through monetary gift cards. 

The Partnership for Children of Johnston County is a nonprofit organization, a Smart Start funded agency, that primarily works with children and families, from birth to age five. Read to Grow Johnston County is the Partnership’s initiative within the North Carolina Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. It is a community-driven collaborative, with the Partnership having started it and serving as the backbone organization. The overarching goal is for children in Johnston County to lean into their vision of all community stakeholders are part of the effort to continuously ensure each child in the diverse and growing community reads proficiently by third grade, develops a love for reading, a thirst for knowledge, and unlocks their full potential for success in school and life.

Courtesy: Read to Grow, Partnership for Children of Johnston County

NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Since 2015, the NC Early Childhood Foundation has served as the state lead for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in North Carolina. The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has mobilized 300 communities across the country to ensure that more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. It is a collaborative effort by foundations, non-profit organizations, business leaders and government agencies supporting children’s school readiness, summer learning and regular school attendance.

North Carolina’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has a vision where diverse and inclusive communities grow thriving readers, beginning at birth and continuing through third grade, so each child is prepared for success. Thirteen community collaboratives, including Read to Grow in Johnston County, are currently participating in the NC Campaign. Read to Grow consists of a wide variety of community members including business leaders, faith community members, families, Partnership for Children of Johnston County, My Kids Club, Johnston County Public Schools and their Board of Education.

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The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold – and achievable – vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade.