READ Wayne is continuing efforts to improve school readiness and literacy skills, developing a plan to be submitted to the state to position Wayne County as a member of the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Allison Pridgen was recently hired to serve as READ Wayne project manager and tasked with developing a Community Solutions Action Plan, or CSAP.

READ Wayne, launched earlier in the year as Wayne County Readiness Coalition, drew immediate grassroots support from agencies around the community, with Wayne County Public Library taking the lead role. United Way of Wayne County pledged $50,000 over the next three years and other grant funding made it possible to hire three people, including Mrs. Pridgen.

"I have assumed responsibility for managing this community coalition, 60 or so members strong," she said. "This project seems to really be something our professional community has wrapped (its) arms around and is willing to move full steam ahead toward impacting the school readiness and literacy skills of our youngest children."

The science has been very clear, Mrs. Pridgen said -- learning begins at birth.

But for some children, particularly those in poverty, the statistics are glaring.

According to her research, and data obtained from WAGES, in 2016 there are approximately 3,500 children in childcare facilities across the county, more than 1,000 of them participating in state and federally funded programs.

Despite that, many are also on waiting lists. An estimated 2,000 children enter school without having had any pre-kindergarten experience, Mrs. Pridgen said.

"Children that have not had some type of meaningful preschool experience simply are not ready to begin reading when they get to kindergarten," she said.

The situation only worsens with time, she explained, with many still not reading at grade level by the time they reach third grade.

Another concern is the summer reading loss, or what officials call the "summer slide."

"If they go home to a home barren of books, no one talks to them, no one plays with them, they don't have books, they experience what is known as the summer slide," Mrs. Pridgen said.

The scenario results in students getting up to two months behind in reading achievement during the summer months. If the situation continues, by fifth grade they can be up to three grade levels behind.

Some efforts are already being made in Wayne County, throughout the year and during the summer months -- at child care centers, Boys and Girls Clubs and churches, to name a few.

The READ Wayne Coalition has been working to develop the CSAP plan, a 19-page document that highlights some of these as well as goals and plans over the next three years.

"It is our hope that by 2020 every child that enters kindergarten will be ready to learn to read and will be at grade level in the third grade," Mrs. Pridgen said.

Among the group's "aspirational targets" or goals are to have all third-graders make a field trip to Wayne County Public Library during the school year and all READ coalition members commit to volunteer five hours annually in a third-grade setting.

"Think of the boon it would be to have 60-plus members of the coalition to go into the schools and volunteer," she said.

The group is already implementing a number of strategies, she explained, targeting schools with the lowest test scores -- Brogden Primary, Carver, North Drive and Spring Creek elementary schools and School Street Early Learning Center. In addition to providing opportunities for reading and summer learning activities, parents and staff are included in the training.

Mrs. Pridgen is also working to broadcast the message across the county.

"I was hired to be the face in the community, speaking wherever I need to get the word out," she said.

Sen. Louis Pate attended the coalition meeting recently. He praised the efforts made to develop the plan but expressed concern about funding.

"Financing is always a problem," Mrs. Pridgen agreed. "You have to create a knowledge base before we can get that funding.

"Now that this document is complete, I will be free this second semester to do some hard core visiting with the church congregations and civic group meetings."