Archived Story

Third grade reading predicts career success

Published 11:24am Tuesday, February 12, 2013




130212Tyler Newton



Reading proficiently by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success.

Failing to read proficiently by third grade makes a student four times more likely to drop out.

Though 85 percent of a child’s core brain structure forms by age 3, less than 4 percent of public investment for education and development occurs by that time.

“There’s a gap between brain development and education funding,” Tyler Newton, United Way of Southwest Michigan project coordinator, impact strategies, told Niles-Buchanan Rotary Club Monday at Riverfront Café.

To close that gap, the St. Joseph-based United Way for Berrien and Cass counties turned to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which mails free books each month to children from birth until their fifth birthdays, regardless of income.

“If a child enrolls at birth for five years, they’re going to have 60 books in their libraries by the time they graduate from the program,” said Newton, who joined United Way two months ago.

“This program was started by Dolly Parton in 1995 in Sevier, her home county in Tennessee, to promote childhood literacy,” Newton said. “They saw the success of the program and decided to offer it to other organizations to replicate it in their communities.”

United Way brought the program to southwest Michigan four years ago.

Newton said the Imagination Library operates in three countries, serving 660,000 children.

“We reach 4,800 in Berrien and Cass counties,” he said. “We have 803 children enrolled in Niles alone.”

A survey of parents who signed up 18 months ago found “their kids are excited to receive these books. They ask, ‘Has my book come from Dolly Parton?’ They don’t want to read just that one book, but three or four, so they run to their library and grab piles. It gives parents a better way to bond with their children than television,” he said.

United Way spends $35 for each child to receive 12 books.

“What we’re really trying to accomplish with this program,” Newton said, “is to make sure our children in Berrien and Cass counties are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. If they’re ready to learn, they’re ahead of the curve for high school graduation.”


Free income

tax preparation


Newton also apprised Rotarians about free income tax preparation assistance available for low-income working families.

If you are eligible to receive the earned income tax credit (EITC), you are eligible for free income tax preparation — generally, households making $50,000 or less per year.

“In 2011,” Newton said, “the average fee to prepare a federal itemized tax return and a state return was $233. We’re working to maximize returns by getting all deductions possible.”

United Way organizes volunteers trained by the IRS.

In 2012, in Berrien and Cass counties, there were five sites that served 800 households with $1.1 million in refunds — an average of $1,375.

This year there are six sites. In Niles, the district library hosts 17 days of tax preparation.

Niles District Library is among 14 public libraries awarded a $70,000 grant to offer a series of financial literacy classes and materials to people of all walks of life.

All three educational programs are available to the public at no cost through a partnership with United Way, Lake Michigan College, United Federal Credit Union and Niles Salvation Army.


You can volunteer for United Way of Southwest Michigan’s Reading Day of Action on March 19.

Give a few hours of your time or the whole day.

United Way will match you with a pre-kindergarten to second grade classroom in your hometown or area of your choosing.

Share your love of reading with children in Cass and Berrien counties. Sign up online at by Feb. 28.

Call (269) 982-1700, ext. 23, with questions.










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