Reading By 3rd Grade Initiative

Early Education Reading by Third Grade

In order to be vibrant community we must ensure that more children from low- and moderate-income families succeed in school and graduate high school prepared for college, work and life. One way we will accomplish this goal is by investing in early childhood education and maintains investments through high school graduation.



To Bolster Grade-Level Reading, United Way of Pinal County Has A Goal To Raise $100,000

Research shows that students who do not read well by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school than proficient readers. We spend the first eight years of our life learning to read so that we can spend the rest of our life reading to learn.


Students in poverty are three times more likely to drop out of school or fail to graduate on time. If they read poorly, the rate is six times greater than for proficient readers. For black and Latino students, the combination of poverty and poor third grade reading skills, makes the rate eight times greater.


As a way to increase third grade reading scores the United Ways of Arizona and four Arizona foundations formed a statewide coalition to implement a community approach known as READ ON. This effort brings together school superintendents, nonprofit agencies and government, foundations, businesses and literacy organizations to partner in addressing the reading gap.


Far too many children from low-income families arrive at Kindergarten unprepared. They are less likely to be read to regularly or participate in high-quality early care and prekindergarten programs. As a consequence, these children may hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their middle-income peers before reaching kindergarten. It takes 1000 “lap hours” in order to arrive ready at Kindergarten to begin the formal reading process. That equals to 30 minutes of daily reading with an adult.
Too many children miss too many days of school. Research has found that one in ten kindergarten and first grade students nationwide misses nearly a month of school each year. Every hour missed of school puts these students even farther behind making it harder to reach the skill level required to successfully read by third grade.


  • Address the Readiness Gap by working with communities to become a READ ON community and getting more books into the hands of low-income children and supporting families to prepare children for school.
  • Address the Attendance Gap by working with school districts and afterschool program providers to address the service delivery and affordability gaps that exist in Pinal County.
  • The Family Friends and Neighbors Caregiver Outreach Assistance Project (FFN- COAP) is supported by a generous grant from First Things First, which provides training and educational opportunities to family, friends and neighbors that take care of children in their home. The goal is to provide access to quality early childhood experiences so our children will start school healthy and ready to succeed.                                                                                                                                                  
  • Dolly Parton Imagination Library

Dolly Parton Imagination Library


United Way strongly supports both Early Childhood Education and Youth Development so that children will make a successful transition to adulthood. This is done with a focus on improving the quality of early childhood and after school programs, promoting early literacy, increasing access to health and nutrition services, supporting parent education, increasing the capacity of out-of-school time programs, promoting healthy lifestyle education for teens and enhancing community awareness of the importance of quality care and education.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL) is a book gifting program that is paid for by investors that pay $30/year per child. This $2.50/month investment per child delivers a high quality, age appropriate book directly to the enrolled child’s home to help build the child’s personal library.  
  • The child will continue to receive a book as long as there are sufficient sponsors 
  • The child continues to live in Pinal County and is under the age of 5.  
The United Way of Pinal County has developed a partnership with the Pinal Gila Head Start offices, the Easter Seals Blake Foundation and the United Way’s Friends Family and Neighbors Program (FFN) to assist in the recruitment of eligible children aged 0-5 in outlying areas of Pinal County where libraries may be a challenge for some families to access and stores with high quality books may be hard to find. As the program funding continues to increase so does the service area.    
Current Areas of Focus:
  • Copper Corridor
  • Stanfield
  • Arizona City
  • San Tan Valley 
The initial program funding came from the net proceed from the annual Golf Tournament held at the end of April each year at the Robson Ranch Golf Course.  This last April enough funds were raised to support 750 children in this program.  According to First Things First and Dolly Parton Imagination Library calculations there are approximately 25,000 children countywide that could potentially benefit from this program.    
“The United Way of Pinal County Board of Directors has chosen Third Grade Reading attainment as an area of focus.   In Pinal County about 30% of 3rd graders don’t meet the current reading standards.  It is interesting to note that 30% of high schoolers don’t graduate. Is there a relationship?  The Board of Directors feels there is” said Executive Director Manuela Bowler.  
The local United Way believes that the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is one tool that can help children arrive at Kindergarten more prepared for success.  The first five years are most important in laying down a solid foundation and future K-16 system success is greatly impacted by the quality educational experiences a young child is exposed to.   
Susan Fender, the Community Development Director for the Pinal Gila Community Child Services, said “Putting books in the hands of very young children is critical to emphasizing the importance of reading.  Reading is a foundation skill children need to master to be successful in school and beyond.  Supporting the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is just one way interested adults can promote the opportunity of success for children in their community.”
You can sponsor a child’s subscription to the Dolly Parton Library by texting UWPC to 71777 to donate or designate the UWPC Dolly Parton Library on your workplace giving campaign form.  
Click here to view the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Website.
Manuela Rehm-Bowler
United Way of Pinal County