New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Bright Spot, Pacesetter honors announced


Campaign recognized for work in supporting early school success, summer learning strategies

The National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading announced today it recognizes United Way of Southeast Louisiana's (UWSELA) New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (NOLA-GLR) with three Pacesetter finalist awards and one Bright Spot honor for its work in 2019 in the impact areas of summer and afterschool, big tent collaboration and philanthropic engagement and leadership. 

"We applaud the civic leaders and local funders whose time, talent, energy and imagination have fueled progress in these Bright Spot Communities," says Ralph Smith, managing director of the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. "Mobilized communities support our big bet on the problem-solving potential of proximity, and we all have much to learn and emulate from their success."David Fennelley

NOLA-GLR and its Kay Fennelly Summer Literacy Institute focus on promoting early school success as an essential building block of more hopeful futures for children in low-income families and communities through a collaborative effort by funders, nonprofits, business leaders, governments, states and cities to ensure that more low-income children succeed in school and graduate prepared for the future. 

"Through our collaborative initiatives, the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and Fennelly Institute have developed models that provide children with the tools they need to be successful in school," says Michael Williamson, UWSELA President and CEO. "The Campaign's partnerships and coalition building have allowed us to ensure professionals working with our most vulnerable children have the tools proven to close the educational achievement gap. As this designation shows, we've made progress and need to continue to mobilize our community by working with our schools, city agencies, nonprofits, civic leaders and parents."

Recent data reveals that 69% of third graders in New Orleans public schools are not reading on grade level. Furthermore, low-income students are nearly 40 percent less likely to read on grade level by the end of third grade than their more affluent peers.

The Fennelly Institute, a summer program that addresses the lack of literacy-rich summer camps and programming in New Orleans, was recognized as a Bright Spot for filing stories highlighting the innovative strategies developed to address the summer slide and literacy enrichment in summer programs. The stories were highly rated for their promising ideas, approaches and strategies based on effectiveness, replicability and sustainability.

The summer slide is the loss, or reversal, of academic skills and knowledge over summer months when children are not in school. Not attending high-quality summer programming can cause low-income students to lose two to three months of learning each summer.

The Fennelly Institute witnessed significant changes in program delivery following the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. When the need was more significant than ever following months without traditional school, the institute shifted to the online delivery of workshops and coaching sessions for camp staff. The institute also created a YouTube channel to expand access to critical resources and distributed family literacy kits, including writing and coloring supplies and a summer book, to all virtual and in-person camps.  

In year three, the institute partnered with 13 summer camp/program sites and approximately 800 children, of which almost two-thirds were rising third graders or younger. These summer programs, a mix of new and returning, implemented a total of 13 in-person camps, one hybrid (partially in-person and partially online) camp and three completely online camps. The institute is already planning for year four and beyond as the learning slide has widened beyond the summer months as children and their families navigate virtual learning.

“I am thrilled to see how much the institute has accomplished in three short years and with the added adversities of 2020,” said David Fennelly, Kay Fennelly Summer Literary Institute Founder and UWSELA Million Dollar Roundtable Member. “My mother, Kay, ensured every child she taught had an equitable opportunity to learn and grow under her watch, and the institute is doing the same today for so many children in New Orleans.”

As a Pacesetter finalist, NOLA-GLR received recognition for reporting significant observable progress in building cross-sector support and funding for early care needs. The awards highlight NOLA-GLR's strategies and advocacy, which resulted in a historic investment of $3 million in municipal funding to provide access to high-quality early care and education seats and literacy resources to at-risk children, birth to age three, through its new partnership with First Book.

Pacesetters' and Bright Spot's Nomination Journey 

The process began in January when the national campaign invited communities to file stories on its Community Learning for Impact & Improvement Platform (CLIP), using 16 categories that served as "tags" for each story published on CLIP.

The campaign received 214 stories from 50 communities representing 23 states and one Canadian province. The nominated stories were considered, sorted and ranked by panels of community-based peer reviewers. By the end of the process, there were 2,000 story reviews filed by close to 400 peer reviewers. 

"The commitment to peer review is a unique and important aspect of the Pacesetter Recognition process," says Smith. "The peer reviewers bring a combination of local knowledge and real-world experience that adds heft and credibility to the process." 


About United Way of Southeast Louisiana

For 95 years, United Way of Southeast Louisiana (UWSELA) has been a leader and trusted partner in improving lives and making a lasting difference. We fight to eradicate poverty by preparing people for quality jobs, growing incomes, and affording better health and education opportunities throughout Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington parishes. We have a bold vision of equitable communities where all individuals are healthy, educated, and financially stable – and we have a plan. United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s Blueprint for Prosperity guides all strategic investments in programs, initiatives, collaborations, volunteerism, and advocacy aimed at tackling poverty. For more information, please visit Find us on social: @UnitedWaySELA.


About the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading 

Launched in 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. Since its launch, CGLR has grown to include more than 350 communities, representing 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and two provinces in Canada — with 5,000+ local organizations and 510 state and local funders (including 200+ United Ways). To learn more, visit and follow the movement on Twitter @readingby3rd.