Our family chooses United Way for many reasons.  However, one of the main reasons United Way is so important in my life is because I see the impact it has on our community each day.  I have been teaching in Laramie County School District #1 for 13 years and have taught kids living in poverty.  Kids walk through classroom doors each day lacking health care, nutrition, security, basic needs, and safe and reliable housing.  United Way addresses these concerns and works with program partners in our community to better prepare kids for school so that they are walking through our classroom doors ready to learn.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2017, only 41% of Wyoming students are proficient or advanced in reading skills.  This leaves 59% of Wyoming students basic or below basic in reading.  Of those students who are eligible for free or reduced nutrition program, 68% of those students are basic or below basic in their reading skills.  Wyoming students are performing higher than the national average, but I believe, and many educators would also agree, we can do better.

Students who are not reading on grade level in the 4th grade are less likely to graduate from high school and those living in poverty have an even higher risk of dropping out of high school.  Students who do not graduate from high school are more likely to be arrested and/or to be incarcerated.  According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 70% of incarcerated adults cannot read at a 4th grade level, meaning that they lack basic reading skills to accomplish every tasks such as filling out job applications or fulfilling the requirements for a minimum wage job.

The population mentioned above is the group of students that United Way targets, not only in the area of education, but also in health and financial stability so that students can be more prepared to learn when they are at school.  This information is startling, yet United Way is fighting the fight for the families and children who are working their way out of being a statistic.  United Way partners with programs across Laramie County to increase student’s ability to be in school through affordable health care, including vision exams and eyeglasses for those in need.  United Way also partners with programs to ensure that students can attend safe before and after school care programs so that they are able to get help with their homework, meet and connect with other students, and learn social, emotional, and leadership skills.  Other programs that United Way partners with that is beneficial for students, is affordable housing and/or short term housing when needed so that students know that they will have a safe and consistent place to go “home” to each day after school, decreasing the stress and worry that can otherwise keep them from performing well in school.  Students are also able to benefit from their parents working with United Way program partners to find and secure jobs so that income is more stable and basic needs are met for the family unit.  Mental health is also a concern for students living in poverty and is addressed through program partners so that families have access to counseling services as they are working through difficult times and preparing to make changes in lifestyle. 

With the support system that United Way fights to maintain in Laramie County, students are walking through classroom doors feeling safe, supported, nourished, loved, accepted, and are given the confidence to be their best selves and do their best work.  Students will have less absences due to health related issues or caring for younger siblings, they will have less stressors with families who are able to earn an income that will support them, and students will also have school readiness skills in the areas of language development, and social and emotional skills.  United Way is fighting to send kids through classroom doors ready to change the world.

United Way donors, I would like to sincerely thank you for your continued support.  My job as an educator is easier because of your compassion and desire to improve Laramie County.  Educators are fighting each day for student success, and so are you.  You are giving students access to health care, childcare, shelter, opportunities, and the ability to learn skills they need to prepare themselves for the future.  Your donations to United Way change kids’ lives every day, and for that, I am truly grateful.  Your dedication to Laramie County families and students does not go unnoticed. 

Shelly Courtney

Educator, Laramie County School District #1