Your recent editorial about third-graders struggling to read is very timely, not only because it is the beginning of the school year but because it comes on the threshold of International Literacy Day, established by the United Nations to shine a light on global literacy. So thank you for shining a light on literacy in our own community.

You referenced data from the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative indicating that more than half of students entering kindergarten in 2017 were behind on fundamentals like phonics, and that most third-graders who failed the state reading test are from high-poverty, predominantly minority schools. No doubt many of the kindergartners of 2017 are also on a path to fail the reading test when they are in third grade.

The link between poverty and these educational gaps cannot be overstated. Census data confirms that, sadly, the parents of our unprepared kindergartners in high-poverty neighborhoods do not have the necessary literacy skills themselves. Many dropped out of school.

The economic cost is enormous β€” $292,000 over the lifetime of each dropout in terms of social support, added health care costs and incarceration. With more than 60,000 dropouts in our region, that is more than $1.7 billion.

In addition, there is a 30-million-word gap between the number of words children from high-poverty neighborhoods hear by the time they start school compared to children from other neighborhoods. Thus, the cycle of illiteracy and poverty is perpetuated.

As you say, addressing these gaps requires efforts on many fronts. One of the most important fronts is adult literacy. The critical role parents play in providing basic school readiness skills also cannot be overstated. Even if the school board adopts the recommendation to redraw attendance zones to create more racially diverse student populations, this will not change the initial achievement gap of our rising kindergartners, and intensive intervention will be required for them to succeed.

We invite the community to help us highlight this year as β€œthe year of adult literacy.” For 46 years, Trident Literacy has changed the lives of thousands of children in high- poverty neighborhoods by helping their parents gain the skills they need to help them.

Most of our students enroll in our classes, not only because they want to qualify for higher education and jobs but because they want to set an example for their children and help them.

When our students earn their GEDs and other career credentials, and enroll in continuing education, apprenticeship programs and Trident Technical College, they are ready join the workforce, contribute to our vibrant economy, make education an important family value and reverse the cycle of poverty and illiteracy, so future children will enter kindergarten ready to learn and pass the third-grade reading test.

If you know someone who needs a GED, please refer them to any of our locations in the tri-county area. If you would like to volunteer, please call us at 843-747-2223.

Eileen Chepenik

Executive Director

Trident Literacy Association

Rivers Avenue

North Charleston