More than 50% of Northern Nevada Students are Falling Behind

How important is it to be at reading proficiency levels by 3rd grade? Interestingly, it’s a strong indicator of whether a student will graduate from high school on time or at all. 95% of high school dropouts struggled with reading proficiency by 3rd grade! So, how’s northern Nevada doing? Not great – less than 50% of students are reading at grade level by 3rd grade. Nevada’s high school graduation rate is amongst the worst in the nation.

I’m guessing any parent reading this article feels they understand the value of an education for their own child. But, it really impacts our entire community. More stats coming at you – high school dropouts only qualify for about 10% of new jobs in our region (according to an analysis by the Governor’s Office on Economic Development). What’s more – there’s an economic impact on our community that affects us all: reports indicate that every student that does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity. Students that do not graduate high school are more likely to be unemployed, rely on government cash assistance, food stamps, and housing assistance.

So basic concepts here:

  • Students not at proficient reading level by 3rd grade are significantly more likely to not complete high school.
  • Less than 50% of northern Nevada students are meeting this reading proficiency.
  • Students not completing high school struggle to find suitable employment.
  • Students not completing high school also represent a financial burden on a community.

What Can be Done?

Now we know the issues. But what can we do?

United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra (UWNNS) has made it their goal to help 3 of 4 children reach reading proficiency by the 3rd grade (goal to be completed in 2020). This is no easy undertaking – going from 48% to 75% so quickly. To help, they’ve recently awarded $200,000 in funding to five programs that will help UWNNS’ continued work on early child development and learning, kindergarten readiness and early literacy, and early grade success and strengthening families.

The recipients of this grant cycle are: Sierra Nevada Journeys (in partnership with Wells Family Resource Center and Northern Nevada Literacy Council), The Children’s Cabinet, and KNPB Channel 5 Broadcasting. UWNNS engages a group of community volunteers that review applications and help decide how to award the grant money.

“We are excited to be working with these great partnerships and organizations, some for the first time,” said Michael Brazier, CEO and President of UWNNS. “In this upcoming two-year grant cycle, we look to build on the success of the past three years. Reading is definitely the cornerstone for all learning, and these programs will position our region’s children to become better learners and prepare them for life, work and continuous learning.”

Creating a Love for Reading

One of the programs supported by this effort comes from Sierra Nevada Journeys – it’s called Nature’s Transformers. One way to prepare children to be at grade-level reading is to instill an excitement and enjoyment for reading early on. As a parent, we know it’s not always as easy as buying books or telling your kid to love reading. What’s brilliant about this program is that they use science to get children interested and excited about reading. I can personally attest that my oldest son didn’t quite take an interest in reading until he took an interest in insects. All of a sudden, he couldn’t consume enough books as he read about his new favorite subject.

In Nature’s Transformers, they focus on lessons in biomimicry – using nature to solve human problems. A great example is the way that geese fly in a V shape to conserve energy and fly further. Humans observed this in nature and have applied it to flying aircrafts. The program meets state science standards and promotes reading, writing, speaking and listening. This unit includes three 1-hour classroom lessons followed up by a half-day field study at a local park. Teachers also have access to materials that allow them to extend the lessons after the program concludes.

Teachers (or parents who want to share this with teachers) – you, too, can bring this program to your classroom. Simply reach out and request the Nature’s Transformers program for your class.

What Can Parents Do?

Whenever I learn about a local initiative that impacts our children positively, I ask what parents can do to help. After all, helping children helps our community as a whole. Here are a few basic things you can do right now:

  • Read to (and with) your kids. Every day. 15-20 minutes is all it takes.
  • Model the way – let your kids see you reading for pleasure and interest. They’ll mimic you.
  • Make sure your child is spending time in school. Reading readiness and absenteeism share a strong correlation. Washoe County School District considers missing 10% of school to be chronic absenteeism. It makes a big difference.
  • Share this information and support the organizations doing the work!




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