Nearly 200 community leaders gathered for the triennial Moonshot Community Action Network (MCAN) Summit on Oct. 31 at the First Presbyterian Church in Vero Beach.
The collective spent the morning engaged in discussions focusing on the imperative: What does it take for Indian River County's community leaders to operate as a high performing team such that we lead the way, are stronger together, inspired and unstoppable in taking a stand for our children and thereby fueling our community's economic vitality?
“I am the proud mom of two sons who are in college now; but when they were in kindergarten, they were failing kindergarten. The teacher didn't know why and I didn't know why,” explained Barbara Hammond The Learning Alliance (TLA) co-founder and CEO. “The agony and the ecstasy of being a parent started this journey.”
Of the impetus for this movement, Hammond explained. “I co-founded The Learning Alliance with some other parents about nine years ago to try to help our children. We realized what was a problem for our children was also a national problem. This set us off on the path to get 90 percent of all kids reading on grade level by third grade.”
“Taking a stand for early education is what we're about. The school district can't do it alone. The Learning Alliance can't do it alone. It takes all of us in the community,” explained Hammond.
To give attendees a clear picture of the importance of early literacy, TLA event organizers took attendees on a journey beginning at birth with insights from MCAN members and representatives from local nonprofits invested in children.
Ray Oglethorpe, past president of AOL, TLA chairman, and Moonshot Moment founder placed a high value on education and was dumbfounded to discover that in the United States 65 percent of third graders cannot read proficiently. “If you can't read by the end of the third grade, you only have a one in six chance of ever catching up. That's a staggering, shameful statistic to allow so many young people to fail so early in their life.”
Further, explained Oglethorpe, illiteracy is both a societal and economic issue. Of those 65 percent that cannot read proficiently, two-thirds of them will either end up in prison or on welfare at some time in their life.
As someone who didn't learn to read until she was in the eighth grade, Judi Miller, Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO, can attest firsthand to the importance of literacy. Fran Adams, retired School District of Indian River County superintendent shared the history of TLA and MCAN, noting the parallels between Kennedy's space challenge in the 60s and TLA's Moonshot Goal.
“This was our nation's Moonshot Moment. It was a challenge met. A journey made. And it took Moonshot thinking. Our challenge in this community and our Moonshot Goal is to have all children ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and 90 percent of our children reading on grade level by grade three,” said Adams.
MCAN representatives shared stories about the impact their collaborative efforts are having across the community from the Healthy Start Coalition's push for literacy at birth to Childcare Resources early education programs and the Education Foundation's support of schools to Tykes and Teens efforts to address mental health. The spectrum of touchpoints throughout a child's first 3,000 days of life are crucial to create a society of literate, productive members.
To reach the summit of literacy and achieve the Moonshot Goal, the entire community must work together. Liz Remington, TLA co-founder and director of professional development said, “We are empowering an engaged community.”
After becoming familiar with the work that's already being done in the community, attendees participated in breakout sessions, taking deep dives into areas identified as being crucial to the collaborative's success. Issues discussed were businesses as investors in the mission, mentoring opportunities, the relationship between the arts and literacy with lagoon-related tie-ins, book distribution, professional development, community models and faith-based support.
MCAN member Wanda Lincoln wrapped the morning up saying, “I'm here because I'm an advocate for children. Many in our county are already doing amazingly good work. Our community today is at a tipping point, and every one of us needs to decide, ‘Are we going to become a mecca for children and literacy?’ No more excuses; let's do it.”
For Jeff Smith, Clerk of the Court, the summit was a real eyeopener. While he's having difficulty finding qualified help, Smith said. “I didn't know the extent of the problem. The Summit did a good job of explaining how in-depth the problem is and what's been done so far to attempt to rectify it.”
Smith was impressed with the number of different organizations that were represented and said, “The only way we're going to accomplish anything is to work together instead of working independently and not having a common goal to work toward.”
For Smith the realization that “It took nine years from the time that President Kennedy announced we were going to go to the moon until we actually did it is the same timeframe from birth to the end of the third grade. It really puts it in perspective.”
About The Learning Alliance
At The Learning Alliance, our work is predicated on the question: What does it take to achieve 90 percent literacy by third grade such that we create literate, compassionate, creative citizens who will improve our world? We are a catalyst for innovation and collaboration supporting the Moonshot Moment 90 percent literacy transformative goal by arming front-line educators, parents, and community leaders with the tools, knowledge, and support necessary for success. Through innovative, evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning, we empower teachers to transform children’s lives. Through partnerships with the School District of Indian River County, Indian River State College, community leaders and civic youth organizations in our community, we hope to create local solutions that can serve as a model for the nation.
For more information about The Learning Alliance, please visit thelearningalliance.org or call 877-548-READ (7323).