Project updates, commentaries, events and news about health across the nation from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps team.

Finding Support through Kansas Reading Roadmap’s Literacy Integrated Family Engagement

Sunday, September 10, 2017

No matter our age, we all remember how it felt to hear those three little words: back to school. It popped up in late summer - on the radio, on TV, and in every shop window - and inevitably caused that complicated mix of excitement and anxiety about what the new school year would bring. And when you become a parent, those same feelings return, but often with new worries - whether your child is ready, whether they’ll succeed and whether you’ll be able to support them.

It’s a feeling that Mindi Johnson knows well. In 2015 she and her two young children moved from Elmore City, Oklahoma, to the tiny rural town of Council Grove, Kansas. She and then 5-year-old daughter Lexi and 6-year-old son Andrew struggled to adjust to the new environment. Lexi was falling behind in reading. She found spelling and memorizing sight words boring - and homework was a constant struggle for both Mindi and her daughter.

No matter how she tried to help, it wasn’t working, and Mindi was worried. And with good reason: if a child is not reading proficiently by fourth grade, they are four times less likely to graduate high school on time. Kids who don’t graduate are more likely to become disconnected, meaning they aren’t working or in school. Nationwide, according to Measure of America, one in seven young people ages 16 to 24 will face disconnection. And for kids from many rural counties and low-income families, the situation is even worse. In Kansas, 78 percent of the state’s low-income students are not reading at proficient levels by the fourth grade. According to the County Health Rankings, in Morris County, where Mindi and her family live, 17 percent of children are living in poverty.

But here’s the good news: children who receive quality early childhood education, and who feel safe, connected to their parents, and confident in their ability to express themselves, are far more likely to succeed in school, and, along with other interventions, are more likely to avoid youth disconnection. Sometimes it’s just a matter of parents getting the support they need to foster those connections.

Fortunately for Mindi, and for many other Council Grove families, they’ve had the chance to find that support in the Kansas Reading Roadmap’s (KRR) Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (LIFE) program. Through LIFE, families like Mindi’s are connected with schools and other parents to help them support their children’s reading, listening, self-expression and social emotional development - all of which have a huge impact on children’s success in school.

During the school year, and in the summer “Reading Ranch” program, LIFE teaches K through third grade families how to create a literacy-rich home through family meals, books, parenting skills training and support, child-led playtime, and by modeling how to read aloud at home.

Parents get to meet with principals, teachers and librarians, and are given guidance about what kinds of questions to ask in parent-teacher conferences, making them feel more connected to their child’s education.

The result is stronger reading skills and so much more. By learning new skills in communication, like listening without interrupting and telling stories about themselves, children in the program report finding it easier to talk to their parents, teachers and siblings. Parents say they have better relationships with their kids, their spouses, their families, their schools, and their communities. And families make connections with each other that foster lifelong support beyond the school walls.

These bonds create a kind of community-level resilience that helps promote and sustain positive outcomes long-term.

This year, when Mindi, Lexi and Andrew went back to school, it was with a whole new set of skills, attitude and sense of optimism. Now a first-grader, Lexi is excelling in school. She loves to read - particularly the Mercy Watson series, about a pig that lives with a human family, and has an insatiable appetite for buttered toast. And for the first time, Mindi knew that when Lexie and Andrew went back to school, that she needn’t worry. They’d be just fine.

To hear more about Mindi’s experiences with the LIFE program and KRR, watch a recent KSNT news broadcast here.

Today, KRR is supporting more than 10,000 children in Kansas and Mississippi. For more information go to: