The Orange County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (OCCGLR) aims to develop childhood readiness and reading by third grade, and, like its counterparts in Chatham, Durham, and Wake Counties, further seeks to address the disparities that exist in learning and reading for children from communities of color. In its early planning stages and before its invitation in 2018 to join the National Campaign, the focus was clear: “interrupt the systems” that are the root cause of the disparities. Using a racial equity framework became its model for planning—explicitly, but not exclusively.

What actually is reading, and how can the Orange County Campaign, through its commitment to collaborative and diverse partnerships, change the outlook on who’s involved in reading, and who’s sitting at the table to yield better outcomes for children?

OCCGLR’s “Community Solutions Action Plan,” was developed by the Orange County Partnership for Young Children (the chapter’s host organization) and representatives from other organizations and the community. It focused on three key areas—Ensuring School Readiness, Bridging the Summer Learning Gap, and Growing a Family of Readers—that would serve as the driving strategies for ultimately ensuring that “Orange County’s children enter kindergarten ready to meet the demands of school and progress toward grade-level reading proficiency in third grade,” an indicator of a child’s continued growth and school learning.

The program gained enthusiastic support from libraries, the health department, and other agencies, and aims to build trust in community through its partnerships with programs such as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read. Parents are also engaged partners of the program.

“We heard the clarity in their voices,” said Kathleen Crabbs of OpenSource Leadership Strategies, of parents who’d expressed experiencing racial inequities and the barriers that stemmed from them.

In Orange County, almost 82.8% of white 3rd graders and 77.4% of Asian 3rd graders across the two school systems are reading at grade-level proficiency. On the other hand, only 45.1% of African American and 37.2% of Hispanic/Latino students are reading at grade-level proficiency.

“We took an intentional period of time to do racial equity work,” shared Robin Pulver, Executive Director of Orange County Partnership for Young Children.

The group worked with OpenSource to analyze the problem of structural racism through a racial equity lens, homing in on children and families of color to create solutions and systemic change.

OCCGLR builds on that focus through continued commitment to fostering trust in community and ensuring goals and objectives are met.

“What we have seen are attitude changes,” said Alice Denson, Executive Director of Orange Literacy. Not only are children learning to read, but they’re reading books about their stories and their culture. Partner agencies themselves are adopting the work, both evidence that the program is working even now.

“We’ve been deeply seated in the racial equity lens from the get-go,” Pulver further shared, and this will be the driving strategy behind its ongoing efforts and program expansion. Their hope is to see community trust and engagement across race, institutions, agencies, etc., because, “it’s important for our children for gaining the literacy and language skills needed.”

The Orange County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a nonprofit partner of Triangle Community Foundation through our focus area in Youth Literacy, supported by our Fund for the Triangle.