Improving Literacy by Listening

Suzanne Harbin, director of the Early Childhood Initiative at the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, shares how a simple piece of notebook paper led to a vital lesson about the importance of talking to and listening to the families in order to make a difference in Dalton County.

Harbin recalled a $2,000 grant utilized for an inaugural Make A Difference Day with free food boxes, diapers, books, and resources hosted at the local technical college with transportation provided and eager volunteers. When no one came, a parent suggested scribbling a flyer for a neighborhood event.

“I learned a valuable lesson about listening to our families,” said Harbin. “We took a community-based participatory research—getting out into our community and actually talking to the parents and teachers, listening to people instead of just deciding what we wanted to do for them.”

The county’s birth – 8 early education leadership team, including five Georgia Family Connection coordinators, looked at data, barriers, and approaches through the lens of the Get Georgia Reading Campaign’s four-pillar framework.

In just five years, that first $2,000 grant has stacked up to $13.5 million in additional grant funding. Third-grade reading proficiency has increased by 8 percent in Dalton City Schools from 2015 to 2019, while Whitfield County has increased 12 percent.

“My advice is to get in the car and get out into the traffic,” said Harbin. “Don’t stay on the two-lane road. That’s easy. Traffic moves inch by inch. It is messy. You will get stuck and have to change things around. When you hit a barrier, move it to the side. Figure out a way. Because we’ve proved it in the last five years and we will prove it even more in the next five. We will get Georgia reading.”

Get the full recap of the Beyond 2020 Get Georgia Reading Summit that brought together a unique cross-section of community leaders and statewide decision-makers to stimulate innovative, scalable solutions that will create the conditions essential for all children to become proficient readers by the end of third grade.

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