Quad-Cities contestants will pitch their ideas before a panel of judges and compete for $100,000 to make their ideas a reality in a "Shark Tank" style show aimed at tackling some of the community's toughest obstacles to early childhood education.
Each contestant is a representative of a local nonprofit competing to fund programs that will boost literacy among marginalized local communities.
The United Way, KWQC and the Quad-City Times are sponsoring.
Called "The Pitch," the program will air on KWQC from 7 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 8. Stories about the nonprofits and the problems they're tackling will be featured in the newspaper this week, and the groups' solutions will be presented during the broadcast.
Viewers and a team of judges will decide how to allocate the prize money. Winning teams will then use the cash to launch their projects in the real world.
“These participants are really an example of those that are reaching beyond the norm, and being creative and innovative to make their concept become reality,” said Rene Gellerman, president of United Way of the Quad Cities, which organized the event.
Each of the participants in Saturday's event are part of a cohort program, organized by United Way, called Together for Tomorrow. Twelve participants met every other week for a two-hour workshop, where they discussed ideas and strategies for improving literacy among Quad-Cities children.
Gellerman said the program was born out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many nonprofits and other organizations that work with children to redesign how they served the community.
All 12 participants were invited to create innovative solutions to help increase the percentage of children in the Quad-Cities who enter the third grade with a third-grade reading level.
“This particular focus area was picked because as we’re looking at the dynamics of our community, in particular in the area of education, we have found that third-grade reading proficiency needs to be improved. If a child is ready to start kindergarten, they’re more likely to be reading by third grade. If a child’s reading proficiently by third grade, they’re five times more likely to graduate from high school," Gellerman said.
In the Quad-Cities, about a third of students aren't reading proficiently by third grade, but those numbers are much worse for Black and Hispanic children.
For Hispanic students, 43% of third-graders are not reading proficiently, and for Black students this number is 53%, according to Gellerman.
Gellerman said those statistics were especially problematic because of the ripple effect literacy can have throughout a child's life.
"This is our future workforce pipeline, and we want them to be equipped and ready to be in careers of the next century."
Gellerman said she believed the Together for Tomorrow program and "The Pitch" are good opportunities to increase community awareness of the issue of child literacy and to bring people's attention to the nonprofits that are working to find solutions.
“I think that it will improve efforts to help our students and school. I think it will help parents better understand the importance of literacy and that third-grade benchmark. I think that the community is going to see nonprofit work in a slightly different light," Gellerman said.
The four proposals on "The Pitch" will be featured in individual articles in the paper throughout the coming week. The presenters are:
- Teresa Barber from the Love Girls Magazine, an organization focused on building self-esteem among young girls by providing them with leadership opportunities and safe places to tell their stories.
- Jerry Jones from the Martin Luther King Center, an organization that focuses on youth-development with the goal of building a community rooted in justice, equity and respect.
- Misi Birdsall from Project Now Head Start, a school readiness and project support program, and Christina Conklin, the Children's Services Coordinator for the Moline public library.
- Jeff Cornelius from Two Rivers YMCA, a family-oriented nonprofit focused on strengthening communities.