LOWELL — Fueled by a $250,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley announces a ground-breaking collaboration between United Way, the Department of Early Education and Care, Lowell Public Schools, BOSTnet, and community based organizations like Girls Incorporated of Greater Lowell targeted at increasing literacy outcomes for children and youth

Across academic research, third-grade reading levels are considered a direct indicator of whether children will succeed in school and graduate on time. Across Massachusetts, however, 43% of third-grade children are reading below grade-level. In Lowell, that number jumps to 67%.

This year, the Anne E. Casey Foundation and Harvard University both released reports which stressed that to counter low-literacy levels, children need to have “high quality learning opportunities, beginning at birth and continuing in school and during out-of-school time, including summers, in order to sustain learning gains and not lose ground.”

“For children to succeed, literacy programs must begin before kindergarten and extend beyond schools into early childhood centers, summer programs and other out-of-school-time programs,” said Maryellen Coffey, executive director of BOSTnet.

Through the collaboration, organizations like Girls Inc. are funded to work in collaboration with Lowell schools, sharing curriculum and creating enriching learning experiences for children through fun activities. The effort has placed particular focus on reducing summer learning loss by integrating literacy activities and staff training into summer programs.

“There’s a clear role that out-of-school-time programs can play in helping children develop the skills they need to succeed in schools,” said Michael K. Durkin, president of United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley. “By better aligning these programs with schools and creating more opportunities for literacy education, we can help close the achievement gap across the state.”

On Monday, August 9 at 2:30 p.m., Dr. Sherri Killins Commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care, and Deputy Superintendent of Lowell Jean Franco toured Girls Incorporated of Greater Lowell, one of more than a dozen community-based literacy sites set up across the state to target low reading levels.