Local Life: Women's Leadership Council ready to take on school dropout rate

Local women are getting excited about a new United Way of the Lowcountry education initiative that aims to improve student reading skills and ultimately decrease school dropout rates in Beaufort and Jasper counties.

The Women's Leadership Council is recruiting an army of women to train and begin the march in October. Their goal: to help cut in half the school dropout rate in Beaufort and Jasper county schools by 2018.

The strategy for reaching this goal is to have 80 percent of students in first through third grades reading at grade level by 2018. This strategy stems from research that shows reading on grade level by fourth grade is a key indicator of school success. In the early grades, students learn to read; starting in fourth grade, they read to learn. If a student's reading level lags in fourth grade, that student's potential to drop out of school grows with each passing year.

The local leadership council joins a network of 50,000 women in 120 councils across the country in focusing on early-grade reading success, and the movement is spreading outside the U.S. via United Way Worldwide.

"Seeing women leaders all across our local region and across the country coming together as change agents brings forth new energy and focus on solving community problems," said Linda Tarr-Whelan, chairwoman of the local leadership council and a member of the national and international leadership council boards.

Council leaders are meeting today to put their membership, volunteer and financial goals in place. Next they will be engaging Lowcountry women in two or more of four areas:

  • Women can give a tax-deductible contribution of any amount to the Women's Leadership Council fund.
  • Women can volunteer to be mentors, tutors or readers.
  • Women can advocate for the early reading effort in our community, encouraging public and private investment in our children.
  • Women can celebrate the Women's Leadership Council effort by helping to create events that engage the community and recognize progress.
  • "We want to give every woman an opportunity to help. We will need an army of women on this mission -- 600 by 2014 to start and growing ultimately to 1,500," said Clarece Walker, United Way of the Lowcountry president. "We plan to have boots on the ground Oct. 1."

    Volunteers will be trained in best-practice, evidenced-based programs and will begin their work in eight schools: Shanklin and St. Helena elementary schools and the Early Childhood Center, Pritchardville Elementary in Bluffton, International Baccalaureate and Creative Arts elementary schools on Hilton Head Island, and Hardeeville and Ridgeland elementary schools in Jasper County. They'll work with about 1,500 children who are reading at one to two years below their grade level. (Students who are further behind are enrolled in other programs.)

    Whether you are retired or working, busy or with time on your hands, if you are a woman in the Lowcountry who is passionate about educating our kids, the Women's Leadership Council is for you. To get involved, or for more information, call Lesley Holladay or Clarece Walker at 843-982-3040.