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A Commitment To Our Children

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on October 29, 2020

Reflections from Stacy Caldwell, CEO of TTCF, on Leveraging The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Amidst a Global Pandemic

This week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Annual National Conference for Growing Community Foundations with a cohort of peers across the country dedicated to improving the lives and the environment of their communities. During one of the key-note sessions, they featured a long-time colleague and friend, Ralph Smith, formerly the President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and currently the Managing Director of The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The GLR Campaign strives for grade-level reading proficiency by the end of third grade and brings together a network of national and local civic leaders, policymakers, advocates and community members to accomplish this. Since 2012, our Tahoe Truckee community has been a part of this collaboration. Research shows that reading proficiency by the end of third grade allows children to shift from learning to read to reading to learn, and will prevent them from falling behind when they encounter a more challenging curriculum. 

In those early days, it was a whirlwind of community meetings and tête-à-tête conversations with our closest partner in this work Laura Brown, Executive Director of the Tahoe Truckee Excellence in Education Foundation and TTCF’s program team. That year happened to be the year we welcomed Dr. Rob Leri as the Chief Learning Officer. In a very short period of time, Dr. Leri and Laura Brown were able to rally our community organizations behind the GLR Campaign and focus our efforts in three ways: ensuring school readiness by promoting early literacy and social/emotional supports for children 0-5 years old; working to prevent the summer learning loss, or the “summer slide” as they called it; and improving school attendance.

The North Tahoe-Truckee region, being one that is populated by somewhat competitive individuals, showed no less enthusiasm to the effort than a bluebird powder-day on the mountain.  We gained recognition as a “Pacesetter” among our peers, across the country. We were driving real results with a 39% reduction in chronic absenteeism and a 25% improvement in third grade reading proficiency!

Our students were able to benefit from a national framework and local programming that was put in place for the benefit of their success. To advance community level impact like this, it takes a lot of players executing on mutually aligned tactics towards a common goal. The Campaign has grown to include more than 300 communities across 45 states. During Ralph’s key-note remarks he acknowledged that we are facing a new set of challenges to maintain the integrity of this important work and not lose ground.

“Now, as usually is the case with disasters, attention to the recovery of learning loss will compete with a slough of stop gap efforts that are part of the rescue and relief response. For many on the frontline, learning loss recovery will receive little or no attention, during the chaos and confusion associated with reopening schools. Trial and error is the order of the day. This will be the case for the rest of this school year and likely will persist into the next. Many knowledgeable observers are predicting that learning loss recovery will get its first real hearing during the 22-23 school year…and even that can be a reset school year.  

Remember that three years is ⅓ of the life of a 9 year old. Remember, also that the children that entered first grade last year, are probably assigned to second grade this year and next year will start that important third grade milestone year. These children would have experienced school as jarring, disjointed and in no way conducive to building the relationships and routine which the cantor reminds us are essential to resilience. This is why over the next three years, we cannot allow paralysis to become an option.” – Ralph Smith, Managing Director of The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

As a result, funders and donors are asked to fast track “key assurances” that could slow and stop learning loss during this unprecedented time.  

  1. Internet access for every household and every child
  2. Meaningful connections for students 
  3. Parent supports of information and the tools they need to succeed

When applying this framework, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation has granted $312,500 from the community supported Emergency Response Fund to help our school district and other nonprofits that are responding in these ways. 

$195,000 towards programs that connect our students to meaningful connections with tutors, mentors, counselors, and wellness programs to expand the network of adults and supports in our childrens’ lives to prevent isolation and inspire learning.

$102,500 towards programs to parents supports to help navigate the challenges to keep their students on track and motivated.

And more recently, $15,000 towards internet access as part of a collective group of funders, including the Excellence in Education Foundation, Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, and other local philanthropic efforts.

Now, eight years into our Campaign for Grade Level Reading effort, with deep trusted partnership across our region, we find ourselves with a new set of challenges. Our mountain town region deserves better and more reliable internet access. We must ward off the challenges of isolation and significantly reduced social supports. Parents are learning to navigate new demands and roles related to juggling economic and family stability. And finally, it is not surprising that our communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and these new challenges. It is here where we find new inspiration and motivation. Where we recommit to protect our students and prepare them to become active participants in our ever-changing society. Moving forward, we see new priorities and possibilities to ensure that a generation of students have the resources they need to thrive. Paralysis is indeed…not an option.

Please consider donating to our Emergency Response Fund to help our families and students as they continue to adapt to new learning structures and keep up the vision and commitment to our children that has been inspired and reinforced by our Campaign for Grade Level Reading.