Hometown Victory Foundation celebrates decade of Reading 4 A Reason

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Almost a decade ago, the Brown’s Hometown Victory Foundation was started with the mission to provide opportunities through youth programming that empowered and benefited children and families in breaking down economic and social barriers, allowing them the ability to pursue their “highest potential.”


“Our main goal has always been to partner with surrounding communities and programs to aid in youth enhancements and growth and create opportunities the community wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Kaleann Waterman, executive director of the Victory Foundation.


Among the numerous youth programs is Reading 4 A Reason, launched in 2014 to enhance the reading proficiency of youth in the communities served by the program. It had lofty goals of encouraging children to read throughout the school year, as well as over the summer months, hoping to make reading fun and prevent what’s commonly referred to as “the summer slide.” A study published in 2020 by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) found that “of children in third to fifth grades also showed that students lost, on average, about 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading.”


Hoping to combat this and improve proficiency and opportunities overall, an idea was formed based on the Pizza Hut program called BOOK IT! Reading 4 A Reason had humble beginnings, and finding schools willing to buy in was initially difficult, as many were simply unfamiliar with the program. As a result, the program started in just two schools, Dyersville Elementary and one grade from St. Francis Xavier. 


But from humble beginnings, the program started to grow, especially as early apprehension wore off and word of mouth spread from participating schools about the success of the program.


Since starting in just two schools with 330 students, the program has grown to 10 schools and over 2,600 students, adding Seton Catholic, Aquin Catholic, Johnson Elementary, Delhi Elementary, Earlville Elementary, Lambert Elementary, Clayton Ridge Elementary and Central Elementary. It has also expanded from pre-K through third grade to now going up to fifth grade.


“Growth was not just a desire of ours, but it quickly became part of the local communities. We started having schools reach out and ask how they can be a part of our programs. We had other communities meet with us to figure out how they can bring the same kind of programs to their communities,” Waterman said.


The importance of reading proficiency cannot be overstated, evidenced by the foundation’s own impact report, which stated “children who cannot read at grade level by third grade are 13 times more likely to drop out of high school.” 


It’s also shown in the spring 2023 assessment results from the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress, which showed only 66 percent of Iowa’s third graders were reading at grade level, and “significant achievement gaps” were being experienced by students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (51 percent proficient), students with disabilities (25 percent proficient) and students who are English learners (26 percent proficient).


According to statistics compiled by World Population Review, 14.9 percent of Iowa’s population has low literacy proficiency. Data from the Reading is Fundamental organization found 67 percent of Iowa fourth graders are not reading at the proficient level, while 36 percent of all students “performed below the basic reading level.” 


The issue is so prevalent the Iowa House recently approved a bill, House File 2618, in an attempt to improve literacy rates for Iowa students. Gov. Kim Reynolds cited the aforementioned statewide assessment as a motivating factor.


It’s in this environment that Reading 4 A Reason finds itself, but it is a program aimed at helping by providing books, tracking progress and incentivizing reading—and it’s entirely free. Each student in the program will receive a reading log to fill out, complete and return by a due date. 


The log will track students monthly, recording how many nights they read, as well as how many books or chapters they have read each night over the course of a month. At the end of the month, they will turn in the log and the Victory Foundation records each student’s reading data.


“We have everything broken down by school and grade and classroom. Students have an opportunity to earn a book and prize for the top level of reading 26 to 31 nights. A prize is awarded for students who read 16 to 25 nights and 15 and below get their choice of pencil and eraser,” Waterman explained.


Children also have the opportunity to earn nine age-appropriate books throughout the school year and another three during the summer months, allowing them to “build their personal library, something that might not happen without our help,” Waterman said. 


As for the additional incentives, the foundation usually offers a certificate to a local business  to receive a baked good, or have baked goods delivered on a particular day for the student who earned that incentive.


According to numbers provided by Waterman, the program averages around 250,000 books or chapters a year. In the 2022-2023 school year, over 4,600 books were given out, showing the far-reaching impact of the program. It’s a program Waterman and the rest of the foundation board are determined to grow.


“When we first started the foundation, we were only in two schools with hopes to grow. We now currently serve 10 schools and are looking to continue that growth. So much has changed over the years due to the growth, and we have been able to inspire others to take on the same mission. It really has been amazing to see,” Waterman said. 

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