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Newark "Kids Count" Report

St. Philip's Academy. PHOTO CREDIT: NJLA: New Jersey Library Association

The roll-out for Newark Kids Count took place on Thursday. It was held at Branch Brook School in Newark, chosen because it has outperformed other Newark elementary schools. 85% of kids at Branch Brook passed the 3rd grade reading test. In contrast, the lowest was a Newark school in which just 11% passed. It was pointed out several times -- by the head of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the superintendent of schools -- and the Mayor, that 3rd grade reading proficiency is a key determinant of long-term academic success. Third grade marks the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. And if kids can't read effectively, they are going to have a hard time learning.

Kids Count, an annual assessment conducted by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, provides objective data to assist in decision making. And some of the data gave reason for celebration: fewer kids in Newark are uninsured, there are fewer hospitalizations because of asthma; lead paint poisining is down, and more kids are eligible -- and are receiving, school meals (although it was pointed out that that more eligible kids means that there is greater need).

And then the not so good news. 42% of kids live in poverty (poverty being the federal standard of $22,000 annual income for a family of four). The average income for a Newark family is $56,000 less than the average state household income. There is a huge increase in single parent households -- which has a direct correlation to the poverty rate.

Sheesh.

What is to be done? We can respond. St. Philip's Academy, a superb K-8 Episcopal School in Newark, is one response. Apostle's House, a full-service shelter/education/ food program in Newark (founded by 5 Episcopal Churches) is another response. As is North Porch, which has four locations across the diocese (one in Newark) and which provides needed supplies for infants, is another. And Youth Consultation Service, founded by the diocese in Newark over a hundred years ago, is a huge non-profit that works with kids no one else is willing to work with.

These are important responses. But they are not enough. I continue to pray and ponder about how the Advent light can be brought to bear -- in effective and transforming ways, into this deepening educational darkness.

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