March marks National Reading Month, and I’ve been reflecting on the power of reading comprehension and how we guide children toward literacy proficiency. Reading comprehension is much more than proficiency - that’s the starting point. What is missing in many classrooms today is the passion and excitement that creates life-long readers.
In a recent article from the Atlantic, “Why Kid’s Aren’t Falling in Love With Reading,” writer Samantha Marsh notes that across the board, “a shrinking number of kids are reading widely and voraciously for fun.” The article notes there are many factors that play into this analysis, including the rise of digital screens, learning loss from the pandemic, mandated curriculums, and access to literature.
So instead of asking why our kids don’t love to read, United Way and it partners asked themselves how can we create life-long learners through literacy?
Local Work to Boost Reading Levels
Investments in programs that provide literacy enrichment in and out of school settings are essential not only to keep students’ proficiency on track, but also to hold spaces where they feel safe to ask questions, imagine, and play.
Since its relaunch by the Institute of Mental Hygiene in 2016, United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has built advocacy platforms and programs to address the fact that only 34% of New Orleans children are reading on grade level by the time they reach third grade.
The Campaign is a collaborative of leaders from government, business, education, families, and nonprofits who have committed to working together for the next decade to increase the number of New Orleans students who are reading on grade level by the end of third grade. We are one community within a national network of Grade-Level Reading Campaigns committed to our children’s educational success.
Creating Life-Long Readers through Literacy Enrichment
In 2017, the Campaign piloted what is now known as the Kay Fennelly Literacy Institute to help summer and out-of-school time programs integrate literacy enrichment methods in their activities. From sports camps to expressive arts camps, reading can be part of any program! By infusing literacy into out-of-school activities, the Institute helps ensure more children, ages 4-8, in New Orleans have access to a quality program and are better prepared for school.
Six years later, the Institute has served over 2,000 New Orleans children, provided training and coaching to over 100 different summer program directors and staff, and provided books and literacy materials for children participating in-person and virtually.
Together, we can build a culture of reading and ensure every child has the reading skills they need to succeed.
Reading is access. Reading is power. Reading is liberation.
Jillian Delos Reyes
Director of Education & Youth Initiatives
United Way of Southeast Louisiana