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Fighting low literacy rates in the Mohawk Valley

By ALLISON NORLIAN

ROME, N.Y. (WKTV) - Three local schools, Bellamy Elementary School and Gansevoort of Rome along with Dolgeville have implemented a new program aimed at fighting low literacy rates in Mohawk Valley students.

On Tuesday night, educators attended a speech by Patrick Corvington, a senior fellow for the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, about the importance of combating illiteracy in students --  specifically third graders.

The Literacy Coalition of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, which is supported and funded by The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, identified multiple alarming statistics that facilitated working for change through the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

Some of the statistics found are 80 percent of low-income students are not reading by third grade. Experts say this leads to 60 percent of eighth graders not meeting basic state language standards with an end result of 13 percent of students not receiving a high school diploma or equivalent.

The key about those statistics, 80 percent of low-income students are not reading by third grade can cause problems later. According to Peggy O'Shea, the CEO and president of The Community Foundation, once students hit third grade, something critical changes. That's when kids start actually comprehending what they are reading.

"What we know on national level is third grade tests are the time when we can determine if kids are on point or whether they fall behind in educational system," she said. If they haven't mastered the art of reading, then they won't be able comprehend words and sentences properly, according to statistics.

Statistics taken in Oneida and Herkimer County by The Literacy Coalition found only 50 percent of third graders scored proficient or above on third grade English language tests in 2012, which means a large percentage of third grade students are not passing third grade ELA. Lara Sepanski Pimentel, executive director of the Literacy Coalition of Herkimer and Oneida Counties said.

"That's a huge correlation to high school completion, so if we know our kids have a good chance of not completing high school, we need to do something about it."

One factor brought up multiple times was the issue of poverty. Children with low socioeconomic statuses locally and nationally have a higher chance of not reaching the proper level by third grade because o factors such as their home life and hygiene.

"If you think about it, think about walking into a hospital where there are newborns, looking at the parents and saying 'Based on your socioeconomic status, I can almost determine where your child is going to end up', " Corvington said.

The Literacy Coalition has already begun making plans and initiatives for their proposal to The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, including a large book shipment. The novels will be sent home with every student next summer. Another part of the plan is dental sealants. According to Sepanski-Pimentel, there is a huge correlation between kids, dental issues, a lack of focus and more absences. The hope is that sealing their teeth will prevent rotting, discomfort and keep kids in school.

The plan will be submitted to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading this November.

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