New KC early learning center joins fight against third-grade reading crisis

New Turn the Page KC early learning hub opens

Turn the Page KC has opened an early learning hub at 2401 Campbell St., along with supporters and children from Operation Breakthrough.
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Turn the Page KC has opened an early learning hub at 2401 Campbell St., along with supporters and children from Operation Breakthrough.

Children were laughing, calling Kansas City Mayor Sly James “crazy” and the other sorts of entertaining antics that surround the mayor when he’s on one of his reading gigs around the city.

This one Thursday was special.

Turn the Page KC — the city’s effort with a legion of education and early learning partners around the area — opened its Early Learning Hub as another resource against what James calls the nation’s third-grade reading “crisis.”

The hub, at 2401 Campbell St., provides a reading room for classes and parents with their children, plus an outdoor city playscape — all decorated with the volunteer help of the Centurions program of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

The United Way of Greater Kansas City’s Success by 6 programming is also playing a major role at the hub, with volunteers from many organizations filling the reading room, outnumbering the children who had come from Operation Breakthrough to join the opening.

“Like all of you in the room here,” United Way President and CEO Brent Stewart said, “we can think of hardly any better investment to make in the community.”

Turn the Page, now five years old, marshaled the city’s reading programs to strive toward a goal of getting more than 70 percent of the city’s children reading at grade level by the third grade.

An analysis by The Star found that city children’s performance on the Missouri’s third grade reading exam has been growing, narrowing the gap between the average performance statewide — though still lagging behind the 70 percent goal.

The state changed tests twice during the five years, so year-to-year comparisons aren’t reliable, but Kansas City students scoring proficient or advanced jumped 20 percentage points, from 35 to 55. That compared well with the state which rose from 45 percent to 60 percent over the same span.

Kansas City is one of many cities in what is a nationwide effort led by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

“If you’re behind on vocabulary, you’re behind on socialization,” James said. “Then probably you’re not going to be kindergarten-ready. And if you’re not kindergarten-ready, then you’re probably going to have a struggle when you hit the third grade — unless there are interventions along the way.

“Those interventions,” James said, “have to be meaningful, consistent and they have to be targeted and they have to be educated.”