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Arizona Statewide Initiative To Improve Third Grade Reading Among Finalists For National Award

June 7, 2012


Innovative plan to ensure that low-income students are reading at grade-level by the end of third grade picked from more than 100 applicants

(PHOENIX, AZ) – An ambitious plan to ensure that more Arizona children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade has been chosen as a finalist for the All-America City Award, sponsored each year by the National Civic League.  Arizona’s application is one of 32 finalists selected through a peer review process from a field of more than 100 entries across the country.  Winners will be announced July 2 in Denver, Colorado.

The Arizona initiative is being spearheaded by three funders — Helios Education Foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) — who are collaborating with the Valley of the Sun United Way, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, United Way of Northern Arizona, the United Way of Yuma County, numerous cities and other organizations across the state who are committed to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Reading by third grade marks a milestone when children shift from learning to read and begin reading to learn. Students who haven’t mastered reading by then often struggle academically and are at risk of dropping out of school.

“Ensuring that Arizona’s students are reading by third grade is critical to keeping our students on a path toward academic success,” said Dr. Karen Ortiz, Vice President and Program Director, Early Childhood Education for Helios Education Foundation. “All of the partners involved are working to develop an integrated statewide system that addresses the leading causes preventing students from reading at grade level: school readiness, school absenteeism and summer learning loss. We are thrilled that this work is being recognized by the National Civic League.”

The four United Way organizations worked collaboratively to develop plans for each of their communities, identifying common themes that exist in each of the four corners of the state. The three funders will invest in projects and strategies from the state’s action plan that share the most common goals and outcomes among the four United Way communities.

Proposed strategies will be implemented using a systems approach that integrates existing and new programs into a pipeline of learning that begins at birth and continues through third grade.

“Third grade reading levels are strong predictors of ninth grade performance, high school graduation and college attendance—these milestones ultimately lead to the quality and competitiveness of Arizona’s workforce. It’s imperative, and commendable, as this recognition from the National Civic League highlights, that agencies and organizations continue working together to strengthen and invest in quality reading initiatives,” said Marilee Dal Pra, program director, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

Beyond the award contest, Arizona’s plan makes the state a charter member in a national movement of local governments, nonprofit organizations, foundations and others advancing the critical importance of third-grade reading. The 124 cities and counties around the country involved in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Community Network are adopting a collective impact strategy and engaging the full community around the goal of supporting low-income children from birth through third grade.

As a charter member, Arizona will have access to a Promising Practices Clearinghouse, an online help desk, peer-learning opportunities, meetings with national experts and policymakers, and a foundation registry designed to expand and replicate successful programs.

“Reading fluently by third grade is the first and most important milestone a student achieves and sets the stage for all future academic success,” said Steven G. Seleznow, president and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation. “This Initiative will ensure that the ‘cracks’ in the system are sealed and all dots connected for every child to learn at high levels.”

Helios, ACF and Piper Trust will continue to promote strategies and policies that work to close reading achievement gaps, raise the bar for reading proficiency so that all students are assessed by world-class standards, and ensure that all children have an equitable opportunity to meet those higher standards.

All of the organizations involved are building on and enhancing the data collection and other work already done by Arizona stakeholders such as First Things First, the Arizona Department of Education and the United Way.

About the Campaign for Grade Level Reading
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by dozens of funders and nonprofit partners across the nation to ensure that low-income children succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. The Campaign focuses on the most important predictor of school success and high school graduation—grade-level reading by the end of third grade. For more information on the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading, visit their website at:

About Helios Education Foundation
Helios Education Foundation is focused on creating a high-expectations, college-going culture in Arizona and Florida by investing in initiatives that create opportunities for postsecondary education success. As an engaged foundation, embedded in communities across both states, the Foundation is contributing its leadership, expertise and financial resources to better prepare students to succeed academically and to compete in a globally competitive economy. Since 2006, Helios has invested over $115 million in education-related programs and initiatives in Florida and Arizona. For more information about the Foundation, visit

About Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust
Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust is committed to honoring Virginia Piper’s legacy of supporting nonprofits whose work makes Maricopa County, AZ stronger, healthier and more livable. Since it began awarding grants in 2000, the Trust has invested nearly $285,000,000 in local nonprofits and programs. The Trust focuses its grant making on healthcare and medical research, children, older adults, arts and culture, education and religious organizations.

 About Arizona Community Foundation
The Arizona Community Foundation and its Affiliates are a statewide philanthropy providing flexible, tax-advantage giving options for donors, major funding for nonprofits and students, and leadership around key community issues. Our mission is to lead, serve and collaborate to mobilize enduring philanthropy for a better Arizona.

Ian Smith (813) 449-6304
Karen Leland (480) 556-7125