Lehigh Valley is a Success Story in Distance Learning

To help the area’s youngest and most vulnerable students learn the skills they need for school and life, Lehigh Valley Reads, powered by PBS39 and United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, and Waterford.org formed a unique partnership through a program called UPSTART. Waterford UPSTART provides four-year-old children access to the highest form of academic support in their early education at no cost.

During these trying times of funding cuts and virtual learning, communities grapple with how to ensure students continue to have access to quality education in-home and how to keep students reading on grade level.

Prior to, during and well beyond this year’s COVID-19 outbreak, Lehigh Valley Reads actively runs toward the goal of increasing literacy rates. Third grade is a pivotal moment when children transition from learning how to read, to reading to learn.

That’s why this regional literacy campaign was launched – to ensure all Lehigh Valley students read on grade level by the end of third grade, by 2025. While much of the effort includes in-school services and advancement of curriculum, some of it also focuses on what happens in Pre-K, and often within the home.

When Angel Ortiz and his family moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, he enrolled his daughter Samantha in Upstart so she could start learning english and be prepared to go to Kindergarten in time.

“I didn’t want my child to get behind,” he said, so searched online and found Waterford Upstart, which he has been using with Samantha since January.

From the clear orientation through the support from a coach who would call if Samatha missed class, he has found the Waterford Upstart program, through the Lehigh Valley Reads campaign “very productive.”

In his Spanish-speaking household, he has seen Samatha become, “way more fluent in English.” She is learning to associate words to the point that she can “almost read, ” and has also learned “some basic math.”

The school closures in the spring also laid bare a technology gap that exists all over the country –  this collaboration provided internet connectivity, laptop computers, and educational resources for families across the Lehigh Valley.

The success of early learning in the Lehigh Valley has not only been noted by the community, but recognized on a national level.

Lehigh Valley Reads was awarded Pacesetter Honors through the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in two categories: Improving Instruction and Strengthening Support Services. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.

The Lehigh Valley is often a community referred to for guidance and leadership of literacy campaigns nationwide – anecdotally, this region has been called a microcosm of the nation because of its diverse rural, urban and suburban communities – all of which Lehigh Valley Reads serve differently.

While national surveys indicate an exacerbation of inequities and low engagement with schoolwork, Lehigh Valley is a pocket of the country and the state that remains steadfast in bridging the equity gap, addressing student and parent concerns head on and stressing the importance of curriculum.

“She can go to kindergarten easily. She will be way ahead of any average kid. I think she’s ready to go to first grade,” said Ortiz.

If distance learning is our marathon to run, learning in the Lehigh Valley has a great head start thanks to Lehigh Valley Reads.