CGLR Earns 5th Pacesetter

Shawnee County Coalition Earns 5th National
Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Pacesetter Honor

Communities in Schools wins; Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library and
Kansas Children’s Discovery Center recognized as finalists 

purple banner with yellow star that says 7th annual Pacesetter HonorsTOPEKA—The Shawnee County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) has been recognized for the fourth straight year (fifth overall) as a national Pacesetter community by the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The community coalition, coordinated by United Way of Greater Topeka as part of its education impact work, focuses on student and family support to increase the number of students who read proficiently by the end of third grade. Shawnee County is the only community to receive Pacesetter honors this year in Kansas.

The current Pacesetter was awarded to Campaign partner Communities In Schools (CIS) of Mid-America for “Strengthening Support Services.” Two other Campaign partners are recognized as finalists and are competing for additional Pacesetter honors. The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) is a finalist in the School Readiness category with its Learn and Play Bus, which was previously honored by the national Campaign as a national “Bright Spot.” The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center (KCDC) is a finalist in the Parent Success category for its Play Free program that provides “play-based education and exploration for kids with an incarcerated mom.” The two finalist programs will find out in September if they have earned full Pacesetter status.

CGLR promotes early school success as an important building block of more hopeful futures for children in economically challenged families and communities. A collaborative effort by funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities, it works to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.

“We applaud the civic leaders and local funders whose time, talent, energy and imagination have fueled progress in these Pacesetter Communities,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of CGLR. “Mobilized communities — like these Pacesetters — support our big bet on the problem-solving potential of proximity.”

CGLR received self-nominations of 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, 2,000 story reviews were filed by close to 400 peer reviewers.

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

The Shawnee County review team consisted of Marie Pyko, TSCPL; Brandy Tofel, CIS of Mid-America; Nichole Fairley, Parents as Teachers—Topeka Public Schools; Christina Ostmeyer, Kansas Appleseed; and Jennifer Wiard, Washburn University.

“We can’t thank our local reviewers enough for stepping up to this task,” said Brett Martin, United Way of Greater Topeka Vice President of Community Impact. “Without their contribution, we wouldn’t be able to submit our own Pacesetter application for review. And it’s gratifying to know that other communities are providing reviewers with the same level of expertise as the professionals who volunteered in our community.”

Pacesetter Honors, Communities In Schools (CIS) of Mid-America—Strengthening Support Services 

At Ross Elementary School, the CIS of Mid-America Site Coordinator facilitates a weekly boys’ group, which stemmed from the Site Coordinator and school staff members identifying several students who displayed leadership attributes among their peers. However, these potential leaders frequently displayed negative attention-seeking behaviors that resulted in regular disciplinary actions.

To address this, the Site Coordinator, supported by school administration, opted for a more innovative approach to meet the needs of these students and recognize their talents. He developed a boys’ group, which focuses on enhancing these students’ leadership skills and teaching them how to use their skills to better their communities. The majority of these students are members of racial/ethnic minority groups and have experienced societal oppression and racism as part of their trauma history.

The group centers its lessons on respect for others with their actions and their words. Because many of these young boys have seen interactions between adults that are not healthy and display inequality or violence, the Site Coordinator ensures that they understand how to respect women and how to live a life free of violence. To enhance the boys’ understanding, the Site Coordinator partners with men of merit in the community to lead the weekly sessions. These prominent men are members of the local police department, school district, homeless shelter and social services, anti-gang initiatives, substance abuse prevention services, and athletic programs, and they use their status within the community to better their lives and the lives of others in Topeka.

Some of these men have expressed an interest in mentoring several of these students, as they can further relate to them because they have similar adverse childhood experiences. The success of this group has led to the creation of a weekly girls’ group that focuses on healthy relationships and healthy body image.

“The goal of CIS of Mid-America is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to succeed in school and achieve in life. This program is just one example of how we accomplish that,” said Brandy Tofel, Vice President of Field Operations for CIS of Mid-America.

Pacesetter Finalist, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Learn and Play Bus—School Readiness 

The philosophy for the bus is grounded in the Family Place Library model and its three components: engaging families of children under age five (but targeting birth to three); facilitating purposeful play; and connecting families to community resources and parenting information within play interactions. The library received its official designation as a Family Place Library through a three-year grant with the Institute of Museum and Library Services. At the same time, library CEO Gina Millsap began pitching thoughts on an early childhood, vehicle-based service.

The library recruited school districts, elementary teachers, childcare and health care professionals, the local technical school and specialized nonprofits and engaged them in a year-long planning process. They collaborated on every aspect of the Learn & Play Bus, from the purpose and goals to the color of the cabinets.

In just one year, the Learn & Play Bus had thousands of visitors and follows a year-round weekly schedule across the county. Families look forward to Learn & Play Bus visits and have taken ownership of the service and its value for their children. It feels like an old-fashioned neighborhood on board, where adults know the children by name, and one dad is happy to help entertain someone’s grandson and someone’s nephew along with his own child. Peer modeling comes naturally, and friendships develop and persist even after the bus leaves.

“It is truly gratifying to be honored as a Pacesetter finalist.  The Learn and Play service has been integral in helping Topeka and Shawnee County’s children thrive and be ready for school, and it is successful because of our committed collaborations developed with our local Campaign for Grade-Level Reading,” said Marie Pyko, Director of Public Services for TSCPL.

Pacesetter Finalist, Kansas Children’s Discovery Center Play Free Program—Parent Support 

Play Free from the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is a play-based education and exploration program for children with an incarcerated mother (in some cases, grandmother). The program invites children to come to the museum for a full day of fun with their moms, encouraging educational play and family bonding to increase resilience.

Play Free supports children who need opportunities to play in a safe, caring environment. Through no fault of their own, these children have experienced the pain and confusion of separation from a mother or grandmother. Play Free allows these children to gather outside the prison walls for a day of normalcy in a challenging time.

Every child deserves rich and diverse museum experiences. Play is particularly important for children who have experienced trauma. Having an incarcerated family member or an absent caregiver have been identified as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) that later increase children’s risk for violence, alcohol or drug abuse and poor health (CDC-Kaiser, 2008). Programs to promote healthy bonding between children and their incarcerated caregivers make a difference in the lives of children, strengthening the attachment that makes children more resilient.

“Strong families build strong communities. We are so proud to be able to bring children and their mothers together to share educational play experiences that promote bonding. We are honored to see the program recognized nationally alongside innovative services to support families in need,” said Dene’ Mosier, KCDC President/CEO.



About the Shawnee County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Shawnee County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is part of a national collaborative effort that works to ensure student success by focusing on an important predictor of high school graduation- reading proficiency by end of 3rd grade. Through a network of community organizations, the Campaign works to reduce the gaps in school readiness, chronic absenteeism, and summer learning loss for children in Shawnee County. Learn more about the Campaign on Facebook: 


About the national 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, the GLR Campaign has grown to include more than 360 communities, representing 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada — with 4,100 local organizations and 510 state and local funders (including 191 United Ways). To learn more, visit and follow the movement on Twitter @readingby3rd.