Literacy skills have a significant impact on the learning and development of individuals, families, communities and nations. The social costs of low levels of literacy can be substantial, ranging from higher rates of incarceration to welfare dependency to increased medical expenses related to malnutrition and illness. While much of the current educational support available focuses on students, we’ve found through our work and research that empowering adults in the household with educational resources positively impacts the literacy skills of the students.
For the past 23 years during Black History Month, the Black Caucus of National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) sponsors the National African American Read-In to encourage community organizations to put literacy back into the center of African American culture by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities throughout the month of February. A Read-In can be as simple as gathering the family together to share a book or schools hosting reading performances. At CEHD, we’ve extended Read-Ins beyond Black History Month by facilitating weekly activities. Our Read-In is the only one nationwide that has continuous activities throughout the year. Through the CEHD African American Read-In, which includes the Black Men and Women Reading book club, we encourage adults to read year-round. We also help connect adults and students by providing opportunities for members of Black Men and Women Reading to serve as mentors and chess coaches at local K-6 charter, Harvest Preparatory School and Best Academy.
Harvest Prep Works to Close the Achievement Gap
There is proof that it’s possible to close the academic achievement gap among students of color through a focus on reading. Harvest Preparatory School has a student population that’s 99% African American, 91% in poverty, with 70% of children from single-parent families. Results from the 2011 Minnesota reading and math assessment tests showed that Harvest Prep’s students outperformed all state students in reading proficiency (77% compared to 75%) and state white students in math proficiency (82% compared to 65%). In a related program with the highest proportion of African-American boys of any institution in Minnesota, 100% of Best Academy’s eighth-grade boys scored proficient in reading.
Harvest Prep developed its model from looking at high-performing schools across the country and tailoring their strategies to meet their students’ needs. These strategies include a longer school day and school year, weekly ceremonies to recognize children who achieve academic success, a culture that instills moral character and an emphasis on literacy. A focus on continuous evaluation of teachers’ skills and performance is also an important contributing factor to Harvest Prep’s academic success. Additionally, Harvest Prep participates in the CEHD African American Read-In Academic All-Star Recognition and book donation programs.
What Parents Can do to Develop Student Literacy Skills
The goal of the CEHD African American Read-In is to build an acceptance of literacy in low-income communities with high crime rates and large populations of African Americans. According to urban school district consultant, Dr. Juwanza Kunjufu, children are actors who imitate what they hear and see. If a child sees their parents reading books, it gives them permission to do the same. Other simple ways parents can encourage students to read include:
- Engage in conversations with children to build their vocabulary
- Let children see you read, whether it’s a newspaper, magazine or brochure
- Give children the opportunity to read to you
- Go back to the basics: get a dictionary and encourage children to use it. It can help provide context rather than simply generating an answer through Google.
- Have older children write stories rather than always telling them. The stories can be as simple as the drive to grandma’s house or trip to the supermarket.
If you’re interested in starting your own local Read-In program, leave a comment below and I would love to get in touch. Or use the 2012 National African American Read-In online resources. Check back later this week for details about an upcoming Literary Luncheon featuring author Walter Mosley.
-Ezra Hyland, Teaching Specialist, Department of Postsecondary Teaching & Learning
Looking for a literacy education advocacy resource? The NCTE offers activities (some you can accomplish in 1 minute!) to help support literacy education.