In 2016, education stakeholders identified another issue that young children in Oceana County are facing which not only impacts their lives but also the success of the Oceana CAN! program and the overall life-style of those living in Oceana County. When children enter kindergarten, significant differences in literacy are already evident when comparing data between children of low, middle and upper income parent(s). On average children from low income families show far less developed skills in key areas necessary for success in kindergarten and beyond. In Oceana Country 28.9% of children ages 0-17 live in poverty and 72.2% of the student population is eligible for free/reduced price school lunches.
Many children in Oceana County are not able to attend pre-school programs due to our poverty rates, leaving them without the knowledge and readiness to succeed in school. Even fewer are equipped with emerging literacy skills such as identifying letters, identifying the correct sounds for letters, and recalling story themes. According to 2017 Kids Count data, 62% of third graders in Oceana County were not proficient in English Language Arts, ranking Oceana County 75th out of 83 counties in the Michigan. Based on a study at the University of Chicago, fewer than 20% of students who were below grade level in the third grade go on to attend post-secondary education compared with nearly 60% who were reading above third-grade level.
The Foundation and community partners initiated Read early. Read often. (RERO) to better prepare our children for success in learning and in life. The Foundation applied for and became a host site for an AmeriCorps/VISTA member with CEDAM (Community Economic Development Association of Michigan) to coordinate the RERO program. The program goal is to place books into the households of families with young children in Oceana County. A 2010 study from the University of Nevada found that the number of books in the home has as great an impact on the levels of education attained children as the education levels of their parents. The 20-year study found that having as few as twenty books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books in a home, the greater the benefit. Researchers also found that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. The results of this study indicate that getting books into homes in Oceana County is an inexpensive way we can help our children succeed.
The distribution of the books will be through a collaborative effort of food pantries, day care centers, agencies, medical offices, libraries, events and more sites as identified by program partners. The initiative will also promote workshops throughout the county for parents, grandparents, caregivers and volunteers. These workshops will demonstrate the importance of reading every day to develop nurturing relationships with their children, how to engage the children when reading, and the resulting long-term impact on educational achievement. Based on U.S. Census data, there were 1540 children between the ages of 0-5 years living in Oceana County in 2015. The reading readiness gap must be addressed now to increase their potential for success.