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Success by Third Grade supports Whitehall Schools Through Literacy Initiative

March 13th, 2024

It wasn’t exactly your typical Friday at four Whitehall City Schools (WCS) on March 1. In one Etna Road Elementary classroom, Frankie Hejduk, a former Columbus Crew player and current ambassador, and the Columbus Crew Cat could be heard leading a raucous, loud chant about reading, while students in a Kae Avenue Elementary classroom listened intently to the Mayor of Whitehall, Michael Bivens, read aloud from a favorite book.

United Way of Central Ohio donors and volunteers, along with community leaders and Columbus Crew ambassadors, united to share their love of reading with students and celebrate the culmination of a six-week literacy initiative titled “Exploring the World Through Literacy.” Designed to increase family, student and community engagement, the initiative was created through a partnership between Success by Third Grade and Whitehall City Schools.

According to Success by Third Grade’s Whitehall network director, Safira Robinson, she and Tracey Colson, director of school improvement and family engagement at WCS, were charged by WCS superintendent Dr. Sharee Wells to bring to life a district-wide literacy initiative. The two women quickly formed a committee, and the rest was history.

The literacy initiative succeeded in making reading fun, exciting and educational for students and their families, while also incorporating an attendance incentive in partnership with the Columbus Crew and Stay In The Game. In addition to enjoying guest readers on Friday, 401 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade received certificates for achieving perfect attendance during the six-week initiative.

Over 70 volunteers from the corporate sector, donors, community partners and community members raised their hands to support the schools by being guest readers in 76 classrooms, bringing smiles to the faces of both students and teachers. The guest readers clearly enjoyed their time in the classrooms, as well. Molly Culbertson, the director of brand journalism & ESG communications at Cardinal Health, was excited to join the initiative through United Way.

“I LOVE reading, and I love reading to children. My grandmother read to me frequently when I was a kid, and that was a very important part of my life,” Molly shared. “I’m really proud of what United Way of Central Ohio is doing to help kids accelerate their reading skills, and delighted to be a very small part of that!”

“United Way has been at the forefront with assisting Whitehall City Schools to address literacy,” said Tracey. “This partnership and collaboration has allowed us to expand our reach in the community. The six-week literacy initiative, “Exploring the World Through Literacy,” has been a huge success, and Safira played a big part in the success. She was at every planning meeting providing resources for families and reaching out to the community for guest readers. Partnerships like this are very valuable to Whitehall City Schools.”

With Success by Third Grade, United Way’s seven network directors in seven school districts work to create community partner networks that strategically support the unique needs of students and families, accelerating the path to reading proficiency like no one organization can. Network directors are currently working alongside educators, administrators, organizations and families in these districts: Columbus City Schools, Gahanna-Jefferson, Whitehall, Reynoldsburg, Groveport Madison, South-Western and Westerville. Learn more about Success by Third Grade and join the movement!

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