Starting Strong

Starting Strong is the early age component of Portland ConnectED, a cradle to career initiative whose goal is that all young people graduate from high school and successfully transition to their next step. With a focus on birth to age 8, Starting Strong’s top priority is to help children reach reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade, a critical benchmark  in assuring student success. Recognizing that the entire community plays a role in transforming children into educated, independent adults, Starting Strong is partnering with schools, parents, businesses, community organizations and residents to address four key issues that directly impact 3rd grade reading proficiency:

School Readiness

As early as 18 months, some children begin to fall behind in vocabulary development and other skills critical for school success. A child’s vocabulary as early as age 3 can predict third grade reading achievement.

PreK – 3 Literacy

Research shows that proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Most students who fail to reach this critical milestone falter in the later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma.


Research has found that 1 in 10 kindergarten and first grade students nationwide miss nearly a month of school each year – time they can ill afford to lose, especially in the early years when reading instruction is a central part of the curriculum.

Summer Literacy

Many children lose ground over the summer months. Without access to enriching activities, some children lose as much as three months of reading comprehension skills over the summer. By the end of fifth grade, they are nearly three grade levels behind their peers.

Over 30 community partners are actively engaged in this work, with initiatives that include:

  • Early childhood services that focus on early literacy and other school readiness strategies;
  • After school programs that include homework sessions and support attendance messaging;
  • Parent engagement that supports school readiness and encourages out-of-school-time reading and enriching activities;
  • Literacy programs run by community volunteers at summer meal sites;
  • Recreation programs that promote an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits as well as literacy.

“Schools cannot succeed alone. Engaged communities mobilized to remove barriers, expand opportunities, and assist parents in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities to serve as full partners in the success of their children are needed to assure student success.” — Campaign for Grade Level Reading


Keys to success

A successful education doesn’t start on the doorstep to kindergarten. It begins at birth, nurtured by such simple yet powerful activities as reading aloud, teaching letters and numbers, lively conversation and stimulating outings.

A successful education meets critical benchmarks. Kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency, and successful transition to high school are key indicators of a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school.

A successful education engages the entire community, not just parents and schools. Community partners play an important role in reinforcing positive youth development and supporting out-of-classroom initiatives such as quality after school programming, summer literacy support, and mentoring.

Together, we are Starting Strong.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine
Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maine
Catherine Morrill Day Nursery
City of Portland Department of Health and Human Services
City of Portland Mayor’s Office
City of Portland Recreation Department
Community Partnerships for Protecting Children
Francis Hollis Brain Foundation
Greater Portland YMCA
Jobs for Maine Graduates
John T. Gorman Foundation

Maine Health
Maine Roads to Quality
Northeast Hearing and Speech Center
Opportunity Alliance
Portland Community Health Center
Portland Defending Childhood
Portland Education Partnership
Portland Home Health
Portland Housing Authority
Portland Public Health
Portland Public Library

Portland Public Schools
Portland Rotary
Raising Readers
Sam L. Cohen Foundation
Southern Maine Community College
St. Elizabeth’s Child Development Center
United Way of Greater Portland
University of Southern Maine
YMCA of Southern Maine
Youth and Family Outreach