ZEBULON — Hailey Davis can spell her name and recite the alphabet.
That much was obvious to anyone within earshot of Davis last Friday during one of her weekly trips to the Knightdale library.
While the 3-year-old’s learning is on pace with most her age – it’s ahead of the pack in eastern Wake, where education experts say many rising kindergarteners don’t know how to read or write.
On Saturday, with $40,000 in grants in its pocket from PNC Bank and AT&T, the Wake Education Partnership kicks off a campaign to elevate local literacy rates starting with the region’s youngest. The nonprofit education advocacy group plans to hold four free “literacy summits” in eastern Wake, where the group will give away children’s books and education experts will speak on the importance of pre-kindergarten learning.
Literacy rates “are a strong indicator of who will drop out of the educational system,” said Steve Parrott, president of the WakeEd Partnership. “We believe it’s a community problem, not just a school problem.”
The first summit is Aug. 10 at Wakelon Elementary in Zebulon. The group will provide a light breakfast at 8:30 a.m., and speakers begin at 9. Experts will offer practical advice on how simple games and everyday conversations can improve pre-school literacy skills and create success in kindergarten. The event will also include drawings for gift cards and free childcare service.
Linda Johnson, executive director of the East Wake Education Foundation, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker in Zebulon. She says she’ll talk about the skills children need to master before entering kindergarten, such as recognizing their name, colors, and learning the alphabet.
“We’re finding children in our program that don’t know the front of the book from the back,” Johnson said. “Parents have to participate (and) read to their kids. Stop and ask (the kids) what the characters are saying to check their comprehension.”
WakeEd hopes to measure the success of its summits by evaluating assessments kindergarteners take 10 days after starting school. The assessments ask kindergarteners a litany of questions, including how often their parents or guardians read books with them. In 2012, 51 percent of students entering kindergarten in Wake County reported being read to on a daily basis. That number showed a 1 percent improvement over results from 2011.
Dawn Dawson, senior director of the office of early learning for Wake County Schools, says the district’s goal is to have at least 80 percent of parents reading to their kindergarteners and pre-kindergarteners on a daily basis.
“Data shows when children are ready for school, they’re much more likely to succeed,” said Dawson.
“Think about the confidence of the kids (who learn to read before kindergarten) and how the social and emotional peace will affect them,” Dawson said. “You’re gonna feel so much more successful and want to go to school instead of feeling like you’re already behind.”