The topic of early childhood literacy was one of many which were part of this year’s On The Table Philly discussions held throughout the region recently.
By Amy V. Simmons
The development of good reading habits — a crucial skill connected to every aspect of modern life and success — begins long before a child can actually read a book.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, only 53 percent of children ages three to five were read to daily by a family member. Children in families with incomes below the poverty line are less likely to be read to aloud everyday than are children in families with incomes at or above poverty.
At the On the Table Philly discussion focusing on early childhood literacy held at the Work Mt. Airy coworking space, facilitator Gary King, Mt. Airy Reads community coordinator and early literacy advocate at Mt. Airy USA, began by giving a brief overview of the evening’s topic.
“Early literacy is one of the most fascinating entry points into the bigger picture issues that we talk about, like closing the achievement gap, and sits at the root of big picture things, like class and race in America,” King said. “It is a foundational piece of the puzzle when it comes to talking about education in a way that we sometimes miss. We can get caught up looking at teachers, and try to find causes elsewhere – parents, the parents’ engagement and all of these other pieces, but on the most simplistic level, we know from the research, we know that if a kid knows how to read by the time they leave third grade, they are much more likely to do well in life.”
One of the early literacy programs King works closely with is the “Read by 4th” program’s Reading Captains initiative. According to the official website, the initiative aims to place a literacy resource leader on each and every neighborhood block. As a Reading Captain, participants attend an orientation to gain knowledge of the reading resources available throughout the city, then share these resources with their friends and neighbors at community centers, block parties, elementary or preschool events, libraries and similar venues.
Reading Captain program volunteer and one of the evening’s participants, Teresa Sawyer — a community employment specialist and teacher at JEVS hireAbility — works with high school age children and young adults with learning difficulties. She helps the students learn how to set goals, plan for the future and make up for lost learning opportunities after years of being promoted to each grade without even mastering basic comprehension skills.
Sawyer spoke about seeing firsthand the devastating effects of poor early childhood literacy outreach, a culture of low expectations and the difference it makes in her students’ lives. Coupled with peer pressure and the sheer embarrassment of functional illiteracy, it becomes a huge barrier to overcome.
Ida Yellock, a semi-retired social worker who has worked with kids with severe disciplinary problems for many years, told the group about how she has found a good volunteer fit with the Reading Captains program. She also volunteered with Mt. Airy USA’s six-week long outdoor reading camp for children from kindergarten through third grade in Germantown last summer and loved it.
One of the objectives of the evening was to collaborate and share ideas resulting in a group project. All the On the Table event participants are eligible to apply for a mini program grant up to $1,000 from the Philadelphia Foundation, one of the event’s main sponsors.
During the brainstorming session, participant Terrance Scott- Cooper — technology coordinator at the Philadelphia Sunday SUN and a STEAM entrepreneur who works with fourth through eighth grade students on engineering projects — mentioned noticing a lack of financial literacy skills coexisting with reading literacy issues among young people.
He shared an idea with the group based upon a reading challenge he issued to his sister, who is a ninth-grade student. The challenge involves the book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad for Teens: The Secrets About Money – That You Don’t Learn in School!” by Robert Kiyosaki. He told her that if she completed the book, wrote a report and created a PowerPoint presentation about the concepts she learned from it, he would pay her $100.
Everyone in the group liked this comprehensive learning concept — one that connects reading, comprehension, goal setting and a reward — and plan to develop it further. All agreed that the proposed group program should be delivered in an interactive workshop setting, should be intergenerational in nature and that incentives like gift cards should be a part of it.
The evening’s participants were also given a handout and were invited to explore some of the other early childhood literacy programs in the city looking for volunteers. Some of the programs are:
AARP Foundation Experience Corps – Philadelphia
This long-standing early literacy program has volunteer openings available throughout the city. Contact the branch director at (267) 592-4455 or recruitment director Loraine Carter at (267) 592-4459 or email [email protected] For more information about the AARP Foundation, visit: www.aarp.org.
Houston Elementary School Community Tutors
This longtime neighborhood volunteer-based group meets three days a week with students in the Houston Elementary School library. For more information, visit: www.houston.philasd.org.
Little Free Libraries
Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. To learn how to become involved with the program on a local level, contact Gary King at (215) 844-6021, Ext. 231 or by email at: [email protected]. You can also visit: https://littlefreelibrary.org/.
Philadelphia Reading Coaches (PRC)
This after school program for children from kindergarten through 3rd grade — based on an innovative, evidence-based early literacy afterschool initiative out of Oregon — is overseen by Philadelphia’s Managing Director. In its second stage of expansion throughout Philadelphia schools, the program focuses on introducing children to high quality, curated books and one on one mentoring with the goal of fostering a life-long passion for reading. Each child in the program receives 25 free books to take home. For more information, call (215) 686-0317 , email [email protected], or visit: http://ost.phila.gov/philly-reading-coaches/.
Reading Captains Program
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, contact Gary King at (215) 844-6021, Ext. 231 or by email at: [email protected] You can also visit: http://readby4th.org/get-involved/reading-captains-2/.