The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading recently recognized the Gulfport community with the Pacesetter Honors for reporting measurable progress on key indicators of early school success.

According to the campaign, honorees represent the leading edge of innovation, impact and improvement within the Grade-Level Reading network, which spans 300 communities across 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Alberta, Canada.

In Gulfport, the community lead for the Grade-Level Reading coalition is United Way of South Mississippi, which is working with a statewide coalition to improve school attendance, prepare children for kindergarten and boost summer learning.

Local efforts include PreK4Ward, a tuition-free kindergarten readiness program that enrolled 98 students in 2018-2019; after-school and summer tutoring programs through partner agencies, which currently benefit more than 100 students; Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends free books to more than 1,200 children from birth to age 5; myON, a virtual library of 6,000 titles that is accessible to 2,100 students; and, through a partnership with Goodwill Industries of South Mississippi and the Nourishing Place in Gulfport, five Little Free Libraries offering “leave one, share one” books.

Additionally, United Way of South Mississippi is the lead agency for Gulfport Excel by 5, an early education program designed to improve a child’s overall well-being by age 5.

The Pacesetter Honors also recognized the Teachers Empowering Teachers training program, a collaborative effort with the Gulfport School District to train local educators in grades 1-3 on classroom best practices.

The campaign hopes to soon expand into all of Harrison County, and the Gulfport Coalition for Grade-Level Reading recently met in a session facilitated by Dr. Angela Rutherford, the Mississippi coalition director, to discuss those plans.

“With national tests showing that two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders are not reading on a proficient level, it is imperative that we support our educators and these grade-level reading programs,” said Kathy Springer, United Way of South Mississippi CEO. “We are grateful for this recognition because it shows the dedication of our community in empowering our children.”