About the LOU Reads Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

The L.O.U. Reads Coalition in Lafayette County was the second community in Mississippi to join the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

“The programs that have joined forces as the L.O.U. Reads Coalition understand the critical importance of ensuring that our children gain the reading foundation they need before 4th grade,” said Sarah McLellan, Executive Director of the Lafayette County Literacy Council, which convened the coalition in partnership the United Way of Oxford & Lafayette County. “By working together – in school, in after-school and summer programs, in our daycares and preschools, and in other community programs, we can help more local kids reach that important milestone.”

“Our public schools can’t do this on their own,” added Ralph Smith, managing director of the national GLR Campaign and senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “If we’re going to increase our graduation rates and close achievement gaps, we need mobilized communities working with schools, city agencies, nonprofits, civic leaders, and parents to focus on third grade reading. It’s great to have Oxford and Lafayette County on board.”

Partner organizations in Lafayette County include United Way of Oxford & Lafayette County, the Lafayette County Literacy Council, Oxford School District, Lafayette County School District, Boys & Girls Club of North Mississippi, LOU Excel By 5 Coalition, Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library, LOU-Home Inc., Leap Frog Program and Oxford University School. At the University of Mississippi, partner organizations include the College of Liberal Arts, College Corps, North Mississippi VISTA Project, McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, Horizons, Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, and Jumpstart.

In joining the GLR Network, the L.O.U. Reads’ partner organizations developed formal plans to address three underlying challenges that can keep young children in Lafayette County, especially those from low-income families, from learning to read well: school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning. Sub-committees have been formed around each of these challenges.

The L.O.U. Reads Coalition’s Summer Learning Sub-committee brings together Out of School Time providers each month for OST Coffee Hours where programs learn more about the LOU Reads Coalition, network and share resources. These Coffee Hours and resulting conversations have led OST programs to consider additional scholarships and to increase outreach to children from low income families who have not typically participated in summer learning opportunities. The Coalition’s Summer Referral Flyer increases local families’ awareness of local summer learning opportunities, and the flyer also helps highlight the importance of year-round reading, literacy, health, and wellness.

The Coalition’s School Readiness sub-committee has made great progress in school readiness goals thanks, in large part, to the work of our community’s Excel by 5 Coalition. In 2016, when the state ended its contract with Mississippi State University’s Early Years Network, our community’s Family Resource Center was closed. However, Excel by 5 partnered with the Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library to make Excel by 5-owned materials available in a section of the public library. The materials at the L.O.U. Excel by 5 Lending Library are available for checkout to educators and families. The Excel by 5 Coalition also hosts two kindergarten readiness events at each school district every year in an effort to prepare local families for school success.

The L.O.U. Reads Coalition’s School Attendance sub-committee is led by county attendance officer, Allison Crain. In 2016, Mrs. Crain organized several attendance efforts that focused on students who live in public housing. These efforts included Breakfast at the Bus Stop, Back to School Teacher Meetings, and the Must Be Present to Win raffle. Mrs. Crain and the Coalition plan to expand their attendance programs in 2017, increase their use of Attendance Works materials with the introduction of community public service announcements, and introduce The Buddy System, a program designed to pair kids with mentors at school who will greet them at school each day and check in when they don’t arrive.

Other initiatives by L.O.U. Reads Coalition member organizations include the Reed Academy, a coalition program partner that provides a two-day summer camp for free to children who are Oxford Housing Authority residents, Lafayette County Literacy Council’s hand-distributed Dolly Parton Imagination Library fliers, Oxford School District’s Read for Success program in partnership with the national Reading is Fundamental organization, Lafayette County School District’s Jump Start Summer Program, Family Literacy Night at More than a Meal, and Horizons, a summer camp that, in the past two years, has gone from only serving the city school district to serving both Oxford School District and Lafayette County School District.