Education advocates and public officials announced Tuesday a statewide effort encouraging businesses, faith-based organisations and non-profits to collaborate to improve children’s literacy skills. This announcement comes as state 3rd graders prepare for the annual reading test. They must pass it to move on to the 4th grade. Ashley Sheils, who is a former literacy coach and literacy specialist, has been named the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading director. Sheil will be providing technical assistance to communities that are trying to form a partnership through the new initiative. Officials say that they have achieved good results, although only Oxford/Lafayette County is currently involved. “We know not all students have access high-quality preschool programs, and they need additional support from Kindergarten through 3rd grade,” Dr. Angela Rutherford of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction said. According to Ron Fairchild, The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, there are 285 participating communities in the campaign. Of the 285, 94 communities have made progress in at least one target area of the campaign: school readiness, attendance, and summer learning. These areas are important indicators of high school graduation and school success. Grade-level reading at the end of third grade is one of them. Sheils stated that there are three areas of focus. School readiness — We want children to be more prepared to go to school. School attendance — ensuring that barriers to school attendance are removed and hopefully fixed. “Summer learning — providing high-quality learning opportunities beyond school.” Shiels said. Sheils stated that the focus will be on low-income communities and she had already spoken to Clarksdale school officials about possible participation in the program. Senator Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) said that he believes the local approach works. They look at proven programs that work and help move the needle. Tollison stated that too many times, we have silos working with children and can’t get it done because it isn’t evidence-based. Tollison stated that the campaign’s goal was to reach 10 Mississippi community members by 2017. The Mississippi Association of Grantmakers brought together members to raise funds for their communities. The Phil Hardin Foundation donated $50,000 and asked that $25,000 be matched. Sammy Moon, the coordinator of the association, stated that $75,000 has been raised so far. The goal is to raise $100,000 to $125,000. Funding for the campaign is provided by the Mississippi Department of Education. “This campaign aims to build community support for literacy. It is not only the responsibility of schools to help students read at grade level. Kim Benton, chief academic officer at the Education Department, stated that student success requires everyone working together.