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The Learning Alliance celebrates transforming lives through literacy.

The Learning Alliance (TLA) recently celebrated the community's efforts to transform lives through literacy during the nonprofit's 2019 Gala at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

The museum overflowed with community leaders, concerned citizens, volunteers, teachers, school board members and administrators, all under the auspices of “making something beautiful” through literacy.

TLA embarked on an ambitious journey nine years ago to ensure that all children read on grade-level by the end of the third grade. Today, only 36 percent of third-graders can read proficiently at the national level, while in Indian River County 56 percent of our children are reading on grade level.

The success of TLA funded and inspired programs has served to rally community stakeholders around a common cause and has shone a light on the fact that to reach the district's Moonshot Goal, it will take everyone working together to “make something beautiful.”

Maybe Something Beautiful,” the Isabel Campoy story of a community in San Diego that transformed a neighborhood by working together was the inspiration behind the evening's events. Tissue flowers blossomed at the tables and a mural which was created using child-decorated coffee filters was signed by gala attendees, committing to help TLA build a better tomorrow by taking a stand for our children today.

Third grade is critical. In kindergarten to third-grade, you learn to read; thereafter you read to learn. And if you can't read by the end of the third grade, you only have a one in six chance of ever catching up,” said Ray Oglethorpe, TLA chairman and co-founder.

Oglethorpe noted the county is on the verge of emerging as a trifecta with the arts, medicine, and education. He noted that we will have a “strong, vibrant, attractive, economically viable community. What we're doing is not just morally right, making sure that those kids can read, but it's also economically right for this community.”

After sharing a video showcasing programs, Barbara Hammond, TLA co-founder and CEO said “The heartbeat of this community is really our children. What we've learned as a community is that children really have to be our top priority and an essential investment here.”

She noted that everyone in the room has invested time, energy and dollars to really make this President Ronald Reagan's, “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere” if they are willing to work for it.

I don't think it's farfetched to say that the future of our country and the liberty we've all fought for is really contingent upon us solving this problem across our nation,” continued Hammond adding that we can't do it alone, citing the essential role philanthropists and community leaders play in the public-private partnership developed with the school district.

To much applause, Oglethorpe shared student growth ascertained through an independent evaluator. Students attending Moonshot Academy showed 34 percent higher increase than students not participating, those receiving services from Third Grade Interventionists (3GIs) achieved 26 percent greater results, and students attending both MSA and 3GIs gained at 52 percent growth.

Mark Rendell, School District of Indian River County superintendent, followed up with the exciting news that the school district is partnering with the University of Florida and the Florida Center for Reading Research to offer 100 teachers training in the Literacy Matrix as part of the James Patterson Literacy Challenge.

Through a strong partnership with The Learning Alliance, we have already been providing professional development and training to teachers here in Indian River County. We are already ahead of the game, and now we are taking teacher support to a whole new level,” said Rendell.

To bring things home, Nick Demeris, a writer, composer and street performer who has performed in Tony-award-winning musicals engaged the audience with off-the-cuff, song-making to the musical accompaniment of improvised sounds.

As guests left the gala – with a renewed commitment to improve literacy opportunities for children – they discovered that, together, it is possible to “make something beautiful.” As the Vero Beach High School orchestra performed, a mural created by Bridget Lyons and Kat Faust was unveiled.

Tonight, was really about celebrating all that we've been doing here. It shows that we can create in harmony working toward a common goal. Schools can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it alone. We need to all work on trying to create something beautiful,” said Oglethorpe.