Lehigh Valley Reads $2.5M literacy campaign under way
Hat, cat, that, fat, sat, splat.
If this sounds like a childish collection of words, that’s because it is. For a youngster learning to embrace the majesty of reading, however, these simple words can start a lifetime love affair with education.
A new literacy campaign wants to ensure that all Lehigh Valley students read and read well - or what is called “grade level,” - by the end of third grade by 2025.
The campaign is called Lehigh Valley Reads and it’s sponsored by the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and WLVT-TV. During a news conference promoting the initiative March 1 at Donegal ES in Bethlehem, the program was portrayed as a catalyst for a better quality of life.
“We think it is a lofty goal,” said Jill Pereira, vice president of education and impact at the United Way. “This program will move the needle on third grade reading and the sky is the limit.”
Officially the program has six initiatives:
- Early Childhood Education and School Readiness
- Trauma Informed Schools
- Chronic Absenteeism and Every Day Attendance
- Community Schools
- Summer Learning and Fighting the Summer Slide
- Evidence-based Literacy Instruction in the Classroom
Lehigh Valley Reads officials said the half-dozen initiative will be implemented in partnership with three primary audiences: school district and educators, parents and families and community members and coalition partners.
One of the 17 Lehigh Valley school districts “engaging” with the program is the Bethlehem Area School District.
Promoting early literacy is “generational and mission-driven work,” according to Dr. Joseph Roy, superintendent of BASD, who spoke at the news conference. “We are here for the common good.”
That “common good” means helping the poor. Nearly 7,000 babies are born in the Lehigh Valley each year and half live in low-income families, which makes them vulnerable to being “not ready” to enter kindergarten “socially, emotionally or cognitively,” according to Lehigh Valley Reads documents.
In explaining how children actually learn to read, program officials said that children begin learning to read from birth through the third grade. After that point students “read to learn.” Hence, third grade reading proficiency is the most important indicator of high school graduation and career success.
To augment their case, Lehigh Valley Reads said that research indicates that “children who don’t read proficiently by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.”
For example, last year about one in three or 35 percent of Lehigh Valley fourth graders entered the classroom unable to read on grade level. In some schools across the region, that number is higher.
The program is funded by a UWGLV five-year, $2.5 million Federal Full Service Community School grant as well as money from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and Provident Bank Foundation.