Joel Newton, a pastor at Mountair Christian Church, and his wife Hillary were busy raising two young daughters in Littleton when he realized they needed a change. So, the Newtons packed up and moved to Edgewater, a square-mile, low-income town near Sloan’s Lake Park with a population of about 5,000. While the town had a lot of things that Newton found appealing—a diverse and close-knit community—it didn’t have the best school reputation, with below-average test scores. Newton saw an opportunity to get involved in his new town through the schools. “Test scores are only one indicator, only once slice of the pie,” Newton says. “If anything, we think because there are lower income kids with high needs, teachers that are here really believe in the schools.”

Together, Newton and his wife started Edgewater Collective to reverse the school’s reputation. The nonprofit organization gets Edgewater citizens actively engaged in the schools through its Literacy Initiative. The goal with this particular program is that by the end of third grade, all students will read at the proper level, which also increases students’ chances of graduating high school (based on research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation). The program will be fully launched at the end of August, and Newton is hopeful that Edgewater support will help the Literacy Initiative grow. “For a parent to say ‘I want to put my kid in that school,’ that’s a big jump especially going from fear of the school and fear of what’s going on to ‘I feel safe putting my child in that school,’” he says.

Get Involved: Sign up to be a Literacy Initiative reading buddy. For 20 minutes, twice a week, you will read with a student (kindergarten through third grade) in the classroom to help improve his or her reading level. Edgewater Collective is looking for volunteers now who will start training late August to early September.

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