DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - When students reach for a book in Delray Beach, more of them are reading at or above their grade level.
Now the city is a finalist for the All America City awards because of the work it's done.
The city partnered with the school district in 2012 as part of a nationwide campaign specifically aimed helping third graders reach their reading benchmarks.
The mayor said Delray Beach is the only city in Palm Beach County with an education coordinator on staff. Over the past five years, the coordinator has connected local non-profits and schools to improve reading proficiency.
Programs range from the annual Delray Reads Day, to summer camps focused on fighting "summer slide" where students fall out of reading habits. Together with the library, the city was able to give students books to keep as their own.
Experts said students learn to read up until third grade. Afterward, they read to learn. So making sure they can read proficiently in third grade sets them up for success the rest of their lives.
"Strong schools create strong communities. We'll have more students who are academically successful, going on to college, creating a strong labor pool," explained Janet Meeks, the education coordinator.
The mayor added businesses look at measurements like reading proficiency when considering whether to open in Delray Beach.
"One of the number one things on their list is the quality of the workforce, how educated it is, how proficient it is at certain things," Cary Glickstein said.
The city has seen a 22 percent jump in the number of third graders at Title 1 schools reading at their grade level. Plus absenteeism dropped by more than 65 percent over the same time.
Meeks and other city representatives will travel to Denver in June where they'll find out if Delray Beach won the award. It is one of 12 finalists.
Delray Beach previously won the All America City award in 1993 and 2001.
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