Literacy. I take mine for granted. Like a lot of folks,
I’ve been reading or read to for as long as I can remember. While the majority
of it occurred at home, my most memorable experience with reading was in
elementary school with a teacher named Ms. Scharf.
|Ms. Scharf was just as magical in reading class|
Ms. Scharf was one of those delightful, almost magical educators we’ve all run into. With an innovative with and quirky charm she always made learning interesting and fun. Think Mary Poppins but without the British accent and enchanted umbrella.
Ms. Scharf was the person at school most responsible for fueling my passion for the written word. She had us do spelling bees, give oral book reports and, of course, do lots and lots of reading.
I’ll always remember the very first reading assignment she gave us. Not as a result of the book I selected; I can’t even remember what it was. Instead, it was because of what she asked of us.
Her instructions started out ordinary enough, but at the end came a twist: “You can do this at your desk – or anywhere you’d like in the classroom. But no talking.”
We were thrilled. Kids being kids, we tested her. Students sat everywhere possible. On the floor, against the wall, under a desk, atop the window sill. I chose to read in my classroom locker.
One by one we’d sneak peeks at each other, noting our
choices and silently celebrating the anarchy of it all. After a while a funny
thing happened though. Most of us returned to our desks.
|Reading is fundamental|
I was one of them. Somehow, sitting contorted in a dark, cramped locker with only a few narrow slits of light didn’t make for comfortable reading. Lesson learned, in more ways than one.
Reading is fundamental to education. It’s the primary way for acquiring and sharing formal knowledge and information, at least in Western civilization.
But reading is more than a tool and approach to learning. It’s also a way of being. As a kid it conducted me to faraway places, fueled creativity and more. Sadly, not all children share this experience.
According to a report by Scholastic and YouGov, there is a sharp decline in parents regularly reading aloud to their children as they grow older. The study reported one in three kids (about 34 percent) were read to between ages six and eight. Contrast that with one in six kids (17 percent) between ages nine and 11.
It’s no surprise that numerous studies state third grade reading proficiency is a strong indicator of a student's academic success in later years. What’s more, about one in six children who don't read proficiently by the end of third grade don't graduate from high school on time.
This is March is Reading Month. It involves an annual push to raise awareness about reading in schools. In support of March is Reading Month, members of the education committees in the Michigan Legislature are encouraging colleagues to each read to 1,000 Michigan students this month. Nice gesture.
|Mich,'s nerdy governor likes to read. Me too!|
Gov. Snyder has a proposed third grade reading initiative. Presented to lawmakers during the unveiling of his fiscal year 2016 budget last month, it’s a $48.6 million proposal – about $25 million of which is state money. The end game is to increase reading proficiency scores for third graders.
But like sitting in lockers and laying on window sills, that’s just mechanics. The real work comes in large part from teachers and parents. And that “work” is inspiring youth to read. No easy task, given there are a lot of kids may not yet appreciate, let alone have been exposed to the wonders (and opportunities) that come with being proficient at reading.
Make no mistake, $48 million is nothing to sneeze at. Public school systems need it. They also require educators who can inspire students. That’s where the rubber meets the road. As legislators and administrators deliberate, it’s hoped these frontline teaching professionals will be consulted as to how best distribute and leverage the funds.
Then there’s the challenge of aligning all the various support systems to promote increased collaboration. The goal? Improve the effectiveness of all who work in early child development.
That includes licensed daycare centers, as well as home-based and other unlicensed yet nevertheless utilized forms of childcare. And let’s not forget K-12 schools, governmental agencies and businesses. These channels are essential if all families and young children are to have access to high-quality education.
At a systems level, Battle Creek Public Schools received a $3.9 million grant last year from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The three-year investment was made to help improve “school readiness, early success and third grade reading proficiency by expanding teacher and leader capacity to support learning and to provide quality and equitable academic opportunities to students pre-k to 3.”
On more of a grassroots front, this month the Foundation issued a three-year grant of about $225,000 to New Harvest Christian Center Inc. The goal is to “increase access to early childhood education programs by vulnerable children likely to enter Battle Creek Public Schools by transitioning their informal childcare program to a high-quality early learning center.”
This integrated approach, which provides both broad institutional and focused community support, makes sense. But it’s not enough. What’s also needed are commitments from across all sectors of the community. In short, we all need to step up in the spirit of teachers like Ms. Scharf. The results will be magical.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.