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By Amy Miller and Perli Cunanan
Collaborative program aims to boost children’s literacy rates.
If you are a mom or dad who loves to read, you naturally assume your child will love reading, too. You can’t wait to pass down your favorite books, and you look forward to the day you’ll come home to find your kiddo curled up on the couch with a book, being transported to another time and place.
What if it doesn’t quite work this way?
Maybe you notice that your son isn’t learning his letter sounds the way you expected. Maybe your daughter is having real difficulty with handwriting, or does everything she can to avoid reading tasks. Maybe you see your children working as hard as they can but they still can’t sound out the words on the page. You tell yourself they’ll get it eventually, that they’re just “late bloomers.” But you start to worry.
As mothers of dyslexic children, we’ve lived this story. We’ve watched our children struggle to read despite being exposed to books in our homes, having kind, patient teachers, and practicing nightly. For our kids, the process of learning to read has not been easy. It has required the support of specialized curricula and trained teachers.
Not everybody who struggles to learn to read is dyslexic. In fact, most children who are behind in reading do not have a learning difference. Regardless of the reasons, too many children in Santa Fe are struggling to learn to read. As mothers and school directors, we feel compelled to change that.
Twenty-eight percent of third graders in Santa Fe are reading at proficient levels. Nationally, the average is 68 percent. All the statistics demonstrate that most children who are not reading well by third grade will never catch up. They are more likely to struggle with self-esteem and believe that they are just not intelligent. The Annie E. Casey Foundation correlates poor reading skills, dropping out of school and incarceration. The numbers can be daunting and the challenges are certainly complex, but we have to do better. Everyone has the right to learn to read. But where are the resources?
We cofounded the Reading Group in 2017 to bring people together to analyze the problem of illiteracy in our community and to come up with a plan to do something about it. The Reading Group is part of Opportunity Santa Fe: Birth to Career, a collective-impact initiative supported by the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe county, aimed at addressing key issues facing youth. Reading Group members include Santa Fe Public Schools, Santa Fe Public Libraries, May Center for Learning, Santa Fe School for Arts and Sciences, Reading Quest, Literacy Volunteers of Santa Fe, Bookkids, Reel Fathers and others, committed to working collaboratively to understand and address the epidemic of low child literacy rates in the Santa Fe community.
We spent our first year researching best practices and identifying key investments to turn the curve. We’re now working on implementing strategies that will address these key investments. With the generous support of the city of Santa Fe’s Children and Youth Commission, we will begin a two-year pilot at Sweeney Elementary this fall, led by Reading Quest and May Center for Learning. The pilot will include four hours of afterschool reading instruction each week for our cohort of second and third graders, and a Reading is Magic summer camp. The pilot will also include collaboration between Reading Quest, May Center and Sweeney teachers to ensure that consistent, best practices are in place for the children across educational settings — in the classroom, in after-school tutoring and in summer programming.
In addition to partnering with the public schools, we are also committed to making books more accessible to families. This summer we worked with the Food Depot’s Lunchbox Express program to provide books and literacy activities in neighborhoods where the Food Depot feeds children. We hold free book swaps and giveaways to make sure every child has books available in their homes. Our next book swap will take place at the Oct. 6, 2018 “Ready to Read” event at the Railyard.
It can be overwhelming to attempt to address all of the factors that contribute to our current illiteracy epidemic. But the act of reading with someone is intimate and personal: one child and one adult snuggled on the floor together, one child and one tutor sharing a story and a smile, one teacher and one student sharing the moment when the words come to life.
Improving literacy rates in Santa Fe demands that all of us — educators and parents, public and private sectors — come together and play our part.
As Rayna Dineen, Reading Quest founder, says, “We are going to need an army of tutors to address this issue. It’s the personal connection between tutor and student that makes the difference for these children.” If you’re interested in becoming a reading tutor, please contact Dineen at firstname.lastname@example.org.