Literacy is a key indicator of a child’s success later in life, but more than half of Sonoma County third graders are falling behind – only 46 percent read at or above proficiency. That number is even lower in Sonoma Valley, where just 43 percent of third graders are reading at their grade level.
To combat these startling statistics, Sonoma’s Harvest Wine Auction is working to ensure 90 percent of Sonoma County’s third-grade students are proficient in reading on the state’s STAR test by 2018.
“The vintners and growers of Sonoma County are really committed to building this momentum,” said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners, which produces the Harvest Wine Auction with the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance.
New this year, the auction’s “Fund the Future” lot raised money for three charities with a proven track record at improving literacy rates – the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, the United Way of the Wine Country’s Schools of Hope and Pasitos (Little Steps). The lot allows bidders to donate any amount to support the cause, which created an explosion of paddles on Sunday as bids shot up to $691,250, including three separate donations of $75,000 each, shattering all previous records. That single lot accounted for about half of the auction’s total $1.4 million take, and that’s just the beginning.
“We’re making a multi-year commitment to this effort,” said Maureen Cottingham, co-producer of the auction, explaining that this campaign will continue for the next three years at the Harvest Wine Auction. “We decided we needed to take a stand and focus on one area where we could make a big difference.”
Students who are proficient in reading by third grade are more likely to graduate high school and find jobs. However, two-thirds of students who aren’t literate by fourth grade will spend time behind bars, according to the One World Literacy Foundation.
“(Auction) funds will go directly into the growth of our summer reading academy,” said Laura Zimmerman, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.
Aimed at keeping kids engaged during the summer months, and organized by Diane Dalenburg, the reading academy at El Verano Elementary School hosted nearly 100 third-grade students from across the district for three weeks of literary experiences last June.
“She really focuses on finding books that get kids excited about reading,” Zimmerman said of Dalenburg. “It’s just like summer camp. It helps kids remember that they absolutely love to read.”
The program invites students who are falling behind in reading to spend three hours a day working in small groups with teachers and other volunteers to improve not only their ability to read, but also their access to intriguing books. The data backs up the program’s success – in 2012, 58 percent of students who attended the summer reading academy improved their state STAR Enterprise Reading score. Zimmerman said the additional funding from the auction will allow the Education Foundation to bring the reading academy to even more students.
“Why not second-graders? Why not first-graders? Let’s work with them when they’re young and see the improvement early on, before they start falling behind,” she said. (Find out more about the summer reading academy at svgreatschools.org.)