Imagine navigating your daily life unable to read. Road signs, restaurant menus and text messages are all meaningless to you. Now imagine trying to navigate middle and high school unable to read. Passing a test, let alone graduating, seems pretty close to impossible. While this scenario is an oversimplification – most youth have at least some basic literacy skills and can read to get by (ie. “what r u up to?”) – succeeding in high school and beyond requires a vastly different level of skill (both reading and comprehending more complex language, ie. “Which choice would most effectively introduce the rest of this paragraph?”).

Like it or not, graduating from high school is a young adult’s passageway to success in the rest of her or his life, and a child’s ability to read on target in fourth grade is a very reliable predictor of whether that youth will graduate or not. On the individual level, the average high school dropout makes roughly $10,000 less per year than a counterpart with a diploma. High school dropouts also are more likely than those who graduate to be arrested or have a child while still a teenager, both of which incur additional financial and social costs. On the community level, every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.

Therefore, reading skillfully at a young age is clearly critically important. But how do we help youth get there? Well, just like any story, it starts at the beginning. From birth, children need high quality learning experiences. Parents are a child’s first teachers so helping parents understand child development and practice positive parenting skills is a crucial first step. While it may not immediately seem related, connecting parents with other supports related to their child’s physical and behavioral health is equally important; when a parent is struggling to get their infant to the doctor or provide enough clean diapers, their ability to focus on healthy brain development is significantly hampered.

As a child grows, their circle of teachers extends to include child care providers and educators. As a community, supporting these professionals is vitally important. They need resources to be able to effectively help students who are behind and encourage students who are on track. As the old adage says, it takes a village. The success of our community’s children impacts each and every one of us, and our future depends on the next generation getting a good start in life, entering school ready to learn, reading and graduating on time, and becoming contributing adults.

Promises for Children is United Way of Weld County’s suite of programs working to improve the wellbeing of all children ages 0-8 in Weld County. Promises for Children is also Weld County’s state-designated early childhood council. With a broad understanding of the community’s needs and available resources, Promises for Children fills gaps in services and weaves together the safety net for Weld County’s youngest citizens.

Promises for Children works with parents and children and caregivers, child care providers and educators, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. As United Way of Weld County’s initiative to help assure all children get a good start in life, Promises for Children is one of five areas of focus for your United Way. To learn more about Promises for Children or any of UWWC’s work, please visit our website at www.unitedway-weld.org. If you want to join us in helping Weld County children succeed, give Promises for Children a call at (970) 353-4300 or email me at sheri@unitedway-weld.org.

Sheri Hannah-Ruh is the director of United Way of Weld County’s Promises for Children.