United way helps children succeed


Success in life begins with a quality education. And yet, millions of children and youth lack the support they need to strengthen their literacy, stay on track in school and graduate. United Way of Southeast Mississippi supports existing programs, and implements new programs, to help children achieve academic success. Through early intervention, after-school mentoring and academic support over summer months, grades improve, reading proficiency soars and kids learn skills that serve them throughout their education.

 As early as 18 months old, children can fall behind in language and vocabulary needed for reading. With grant funding, sponsorships and individual donations, United Way SEMS has enrolled 340 children in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This program provides one age-appropriate book each month to children from birth to age five – during those early developmental stages. Having books in the home introduces children to the concept of reading, and encourages parents and caregivers to read with their children on a regular basis. 

United Way SEMS also partners with public school districts to bring attention to the debilitating effect chronic absence has on student success through its Attendance Matters campaign. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days due to lateness or absence, excused or unexcused (That’s only 18 days of the school year). When students repeatedly miss instructional classroom time, they quickly fall behind their peers. This makes it even more difficult to gain and maintain literacy proficiency, advance to graduate high school and be prepared for post-secondary educational opportunities or self-sustaining employment. 

“It is vital for students to have consistent attendance; it influences so much of their education and learning experience,” said Marcia Line of the Lamar County Education Foundation. “Not only do we try to show these kids the benefits of being in class, we work with the parents and caregivers to understand the importance of good attendance and give them tips and advice on making sure their child is in school – every day.”

Along the same lines, students lose ground academically when they are out of school for the summer. For low-income students it can mean losing an average of more than two months in reading achievement – known as the “summer slide” – which slows their progress toward third- grade reading proficiency. United Way SEMS helps mitigate summer slide by supporting quality summer learning opportunities such as Read to Succeed, a three-week course provided to students of Lamar County Public School District entering third grade, at no cost to the families.  In addition to these efforts, United Way SEMS supports local education partners in their efforts to help children and teenagers reach their full education potential. Partners like South New Summit, a school serving students in grades four through 10 with above average intelligences, identified with dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety disorders and/or other learning challenges.

United Way SEMS is fighting to shift the odds so tomorrow’s leaders can build a better foundation today. With an approach to education that spans from cradle to career, we’re ensuring that children are born learning, students have the tools to learn and grow, and that young adults thrive in their profession and life. 

For more information about United Way of Southeast Mississippi, its education partners, or to get involved, visit unitedwaysems.org.