A new statewide campaign is focused on helping parents understand how critical it is to read to children and the long-term impact literacy can have to change lives.
The Can't Wait to Read campaign, developed by the Kansas Health Foundation, speaks to parents, said Steve Coen, KHF president and CEO.
"Competing priorities make it very difficult for families to devote time to reading," he said. "We are not only bringing awareness to the literacy challenge that Kansas kids face, but also are meeting parents exactly where they are."
The campaign features a website, ReadWithThem.org, billboards, television spots, radio and social media messages and a texting feature where parents can sign up for 28 days of texts featuring tips, resources and information about helping kids learn. The materials are all available in English and Spanish.
"We are equipping them with accessible resources and tools to help them start building the habit of reading into their everyday lives," Coen said.
The statistics around literacy are significant:
63 percent of Kansas fourth graders are not reading at grade level
Children who don't read at grade level by fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate high school and two-thirds of them will end up in poverty or prison.
It's that data that led KHF, which focuses on the health of Kansans, to get involved in literacy, Coen said.
"The facts around children's literacy paint a bleak picture for Kansas children," he said. "There is a direct correlation between children's literacy and graduation rates and health outcomes, and that's the reason the Kansas Health Foundation is interested in this topic."
Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, said helping parents understand the importance of reading to young children gives those kids a brighter future.
"Some people have a running start and they can make the high jump," she said. "Some are standing in the ditch just because of the socio-economic status in which they're born. That standing in the ditch makes it really hard to make that high jump."
Closing the gap is critical, Anderson said.
"The amount of growth that a child's brain has from birth through three years old, in and of itself, is monumental," she said. "That growth really is dependent in part on how often a child gets spoke to, the kind of print material and material period that a child is exposed to."
C. Patrick Woods, KHF and Kansas Association of School Boards board member, said equipping children with tools to be successful, including literacy, will help the state and its communities grow.
"If we fail to do this — if we decide that some of them are more important than others and we are going to focus on some at the expense of others, then our state and its communities will fail to grow," he said. "It's a pretty simple equation."
Coen stressed that the window of opportunity to get children interested in reading is narrow, and gone quickly.
The KHF launched its new campaign Tuesday at the Pine Ridge Prep School, 1110 S.E. Highland Ave.