If you can read this, thank your good fortune that you’re not one of the 25 percent of El Paso County third-graders who are reading below their grade level.

The Pikes Peak region isn’t doing so well in third-grade reading skills. In El Paso County, 25 percent of public school third-graders are reading below their grade level.

Department of Corrections officials say they can predict future prison populations based on a community’s third-grade reading level. Scary stuff.

The recently released 2009 Quality of Life Indicators report shows that in El Paso County’s six largest school districts, third-grade reading skills fell 4 percent between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years. Those six districts represent 80 percent of El Paso County students.

That indicator is important, because in the third grade, children must switch from learning to read to reading to learn.

Terry Hekkers, a third-grade teacher at Queen Palmer Elementary School in D11 said, “We probably have a mixed bunch, some just at the third-grade level and a handful of kids that need help with phonics and even letter recognition.”

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Such a slide in reading abilities is concerning. The damage to Colorado Springs in terms of education for the work force, dropout rates, college enrollment and even crime rates could be substantial. Juvenile crime is up 3.12 percent since 2006 in El Paso County. Can anyone say with certainty that there is no correlation?

The 2009 Quality of Life Indicators report points to many areas that need attention, but the black flag on reading demands a prompt solution. Think about how a child feels upon reaching the fourth or fifth grade and not being able to read. Self-esteem must plummet.

According to the report, “measuring the third grade reading skills gives us an indication of how well they will be able to succeed as they continue their academic journey.”

So, what to do about it? The Committee on Achieving Educational Excellence proposes instilling a culture of reading for parents and kids and goes so far as to ask a what if … Colorado Springs became known as a City of Reading? Good thinking, but I propose that parents take the major responsibility.

Parents need to stay in close touch with their kids’ teachers, specifically on the reading skills issues. That way, parents will know to read to their kids, make sure they are reading the required amount of time every night and then some more. Your kids may not like it at first, but once they catch the reading bug they are off on the journey.

Committees that create snappy slogans aren’t the answer. Parents and teachers have that responsibility, and if they collaborate — teachers sound the alarm, the parents commit to shutting off TV’s and video games — they can reverse the trend.

Books need to be everywhere in a home. Newspapers also. Hey, how about reading the CSBJ every week to your kids? It is family friendly, perhaps not John Hazlehurst’s column, but mine is.

My house has so many books that people sometimes drop in and think we’re a Barnes & Noble. We even have the kind of book that, when you step on it in the middle of the night, sings to you, scaring me half out of my Elmo pajamas.

Promoting early reading is good for the community, good for people and good for business, unless, of course, you run a prison.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Lon.Matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5202.


  1. I really like this! It’s clever – but why not reading in prisons? It would help the prisoners!

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