Literacy is Key to Life, DeWine Says at YSU Roundtable

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The ability to read unlocks every door in a child’s life, Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday at a roundtable discussion about literacy, education and the state’s future.

The discussion, the first of four around Ohio, was in the Beeghly College of Liberal Arts Social Science and Education at Youngstown State University. 

YSU is one of the state universities that instructs its education students in the Science of Reading, a framework based on phonics through which educators teach children to read.

“Kids have a chance to grow up once …,” DeWine said. “We need to have that sense of urgency to use the best available data to teach them how to read.”

DeWine and Steve Dackin, superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, led the discussion, joined by roughly 30 elected officials and leaders from business, education and nonprofit organizations. YSU President Bill Johnson was part of the discussion. 

“Literacy is a lifelong skill that’s often taken for granted,” Johnson said. But in Ohio and YSU, officials are working to change that mindset, he said.

DeWine’s State of the State address last week focused on education and children.

“We cannot waste any child’s life,” he said. “We want them to live up to their full potential.”

He said the debate about what is the best way to teach children to read is over. Data shows the best way is the Science of Reading, the governor said.

In trying to get businesses to locate in Ohio, one of the things employers seek is skilled employees. That’s one of the reasons literacy is important.

“Literacy is not just an education issue,” Johnson said. “We can all come together to support literacy issues, and we should.”

The discussion included clips from “The Right to Read,” a documentary about reading in public schools.

Dackin, the state superintendent, said nearly 40% of Ohio third-graders aren’t reading at grade level.

“About 300,000 students in Ohio in grades K through 12 are not reading at grade level …,” Dackin said. “We have to see that as a crisis.”

In most of those cases, students haven’t been taught to crack the code to learn how to read. It’s not just an elementary, middle, high school or postsecondary issue, he said.

“If we have an illiterate group of kids coming out, we have an illiterate workforce – and that’s not going to work for us,” Dackin said.

But the good news is it’s a solvable problem, he said.

Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, said his organization works with students coming into kindergarten. He hears from teachers, especially in Youngstown, that children are running a race, but they aren’t all starting at the same starting line. It’s a challenge for teachers, he said.

Dackin said it’s a community issue, and communities need to work together.

It’s also an economic issue, he said.

Chuck George, a business owner and a YSU trustee, said learning is lifelong. The world is changing so quickly. If students don’t have good communication and reading skills, they won’t be able to keep up, he said.

Both of his children work in professions that didn’t exist when they were born.

“How can you prepare someone for a future that you don’t know what it’s going to be other than teaching them the fundamentals of how to learn?” he said.

Mark Lamoncha, CEO of Humtown Products in Leetonia and a member of the state board of education, said there’s more integration now between education and industry. 

“The things I see going on here excite me,” he said. 

Career literacy is critical, Lamoncha said. He’s meeting with Boardman High School to have it integrate with Humtown’s 3D printing plant that recently moved to Boardman.

“We, as businesses, need to create career literacy. They leave because they don’t know what we have,” Lamoncha said, referring to young people who leave the area.

Zoe Belcik, a YSU education major, has worked in both Austintown and Youngstown City Schools. She said the Science of Reading is being used, and she sees significant progress in students reading.

Separately, state Rep. Lauren McNally of Youngstown, D-59th, announced Monday that the state Controlling Board approved more than $3 million for building renovations at YSU.  

“This funding allows for necessary renovations to ensure that our university continues to provide excellent educational opportunities,” McNally said in a news release.

The work involves renovating exterior brickwork at Beeghly, Bliss Hall, Debartolo Hall and the Maag Library. Exterior doors and windows in several campus buildings are also being replaced.

Pictured at top: From left are Leanne Johnson, Youngstown State University President Bill Johnson and Gov. Mike DeWine.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.