COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Columbus and Franklin County officials are working to ensure that each child can successfully read by the third grade.

The initiative is called “Success By Third Grade,” an investment of $1 million to increase literacy, attendance, and reading comprehension for students in Franklin County.

“Reading proficiency at the end of third grade, is the greatest predictor of high school graduation,” said Lisa Courtice, president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio.

The program is run through United Way of Central Ohio, and will address non-academic issues such as poverty, lack of resources, and mental health, which were all exacerbated during the pandemic.

“They’ve worked so hard over the past two years, so for us to be able to, as a community lean in, and say we will support the non-academic barriers that are holding children back, and that’s what this movement is about,” Courtice said.

Before the pandemic, seven out of sixteen Franklin County school districts had third-grade proficiency rates under 75%. Those numbers have only decreased during the pandemic.

“We know that to tackle any issues educationally, we have to focus on third grade first,” said Melvin Brown, superintendent for Reynoldsburg City Schools.

Reynoldsburg City Schools is one of those seven districts receiving support from the “Success By Third Grade” initiative, along with Gahanna-Jefferson, Whitehall, Groveport Madison, South-Western, Westerville, and Columbus City Schools. But, their goal isn’t just to increase reading inside the classroom, but outside of it as well.

“Educating kids isn’t simply about them coming through school doors and sitting in classrooms, it’s about how they’re learning things culturally, it’s about how they’re becoming and having an understanding of who they are and what they want to do. All that comes from literacy,” Brown said.