Educators will tell you that children who are struggling to master reading by the time they finish third grade are a greater risk of falling behind their classmates who are accomplished readers. 

Poor reading skills can result in more problems as children advance in grade level, ultimately affecting their future in school and their adult lives.

Reading proficiently by the end of the third grade is also one of the most recognized indicators that a student will graduate from high school and have career success and a healthy life, research shows.

So to help children attain reading proficiency by the end of third grade, a volunteer group called Haverhill Promise was created in 2018. 

The organization, led by former Creative Haverhill director Jenny Arndt, is a collaboration of schools, nonprofits, teachers, parents, health providers, early education providers and businesses interested in helping ensure all Haverhill students have the tools necessary for success in school. 

According to the Haverhill Promise website, 80 percent of low-income children miss the crucial milestone of reading at grade level early in their education.

In addition, students with special needs also face challenges to reading proficiency.

"We're addressing three critical areas of priority, which are school attendance, summer learning and school readiness," Arndt said. 

She said the organization's volunteers, often numbering 50 or moreo work in teams to find solutions to each of the three priority areas. 

"In the area of attendance, we're reviewing data that shows which students are considered chronically absent, then were dig deeply into reasons why," she said. "Those reasons can range from issues with transportation, an untreated chronic health issue, or a general lack of understanding of the importance of attending school every day."

Arndt said the group's teams are working to improve communication between health care providers and school nurses, and are also launching an attendance awareness campaign.

"We received a grant from the Haverhill Cultural Council to hold a poster design competition where we'll be asking high school and college students to submit designs for graphic campaign posters that speak to the importance of school attendance," she said. "The posters will speak to all three priorities."

She said the group partnered with schools, the Haverhill YMCA and the public library last summer to spread the word about summer learning opportunities, such as the YMCA's readers camp and the library's summer reading challenge.

"This summer we're planning an all-city reading challenge where we hope to count the number of books read over the course of the summer by children throughout the city," Arndt said. "Hopefully this will keep families engaged during summer break.

"We're also working to provide children with access to books, as we know the number of books in a child's home directly correlates with their reading scores," she said.

The school readiness group is seeking grant money to provide more preschool opportunities for children from low-income families. 

"Research shows that 85 percent of a person's brain core structure is formed by age 3," Arndt said. "Early literacy skills are developed well before a child enters kindergarten."

Arndt said that Haverhill Promise is looking at areas where it can make the biggest impact on a child's life.

"We need to get out of the mindset that it is solely the responsibility of educators to teach our children to read," she said. "They are one part of it, but families and the community also play a critical role in lifelong success as a reader."

Haverhill Promise and its partners will hold a preschool resource fair Saturday, Feb. 1, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Haverhill High School library, 137 Monument St. Visitors can learn about the many preschool options and resources available to families with young children in the Haverhill community.

This family-friendly event will include refreshments, give-aways, children's activities, free children's books, vision screenings and other activities.

Haverhill public school officials will be there to help families with registration for fall 2020 kindergarten.


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