Encouraging lifelong success through early reading

Sharon and Craig Ramey played instrumental roles in Roanoke's being named an All America City for a record-breaking sixth time

Members of the Star City Reads coalition include, from left: Dr. Vella Wright, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning at the Roanoke City Public Schools; Abby Verdillo, vice president of c

Members of the Star City Reads coalition include, from left: Dr. Vella Wright, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning at the Roanoke City Public Schools; Abby Verdillo, vice president of community impact at the United Way of Roanoke Valley; Dr. Sharon Ramey, professor and distinguished research scholar at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; Dr. Rita Bishop, superintendent of the Roanoke City Public Schools; Sheila Umberger, director of public libraries for the city of Roanoke; Amy Hatheway, research and grants developer at Total Action Against Poverty and chair of the operations committee at Smart Beginnings of Greater Roanoke; Amber Yopp, youth services manager of the Roanoke Public Libraries; Dr. Craig Ramey, professor and distinguished research scholar at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; and Gloria Rubio-Cortes, president of the National Civic League.

Roanoke was recently named an All-America City for an ambitious plan to ensure children’s mastery in reading.

“The end of third grade is a well-established benchmark for success,” said Sharon Ramey, a professor and distinguished research scholar at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “Students who fail to master reading by then are more likely to become caught in a cycle of academic failure. They’re more likely not only to drop out of school, but also to struggle throughout their lives. We want to help children achieve the early success that will prove critical for the rest of their lives.”

Sharon Ramey and Craig Ramey, also a professor and distinguished research scholar at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, lent their expertise in early childhood development to help create Star City Reads, a campaign aimed at responding to the Roanoke area’s core challenges in early education. Joining the Rameys as members of the coalition that created the campaign were representatives of the city of Roanoke, local school districts, public libraries, and community organizations.

One of 14 awardees chosen from a field of more than 100 entries nationally, the Star City Reads campaign calls for developing effective methods for providing information to parents, promoting the use of best practice models and evidence-based family support systems, expanding summer reading programs, and pursuing a coordinated public awareness campaign on the importance of reading.

Roanoke’s plan makes the city a charter member in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Communities Network, a national movement of local and state leaders, nonprofits, and foundations that launched during a July conference in Denver. The 124 cities and counties in the network are adopting a collective impact strategy to improve early literacy and bridge the performance gap among young readers nationwide. As a charter member, Roanoke 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. The Rameys and other Roanoke coalition members participated in the Denver conference, where the awards were announced.

Roanoke is the only city nationwide to win the All-America City award six times. Since the program’s inception in 1949, each year the National Civic League has awarded the All-America City honor to recognize outstanding examples of community problem-solving, civic engagement, and collaboration between the public, profit, and nonprofit sectors. This year the award placed special emphasis on comprehensive plans to bridge the reading gap between at-risk students and other learners.

“I’m proud of the role that Sharon and Craig Ramey played in ensuring Roanoke’s leadership in fostering lifelong success through early reading,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “For the past several decades they have dedicated their time and wisdom to providing not just innovations in the field of childhood development, but also a scientifically rigorous underpinning for those innovations. Their insights have improved the lives of countless children throughout the country and even the world.”

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