Response to Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profile

Response to Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profile

Margaret Pfaff
Executive Director Literacy Connections: Helping people to read, write, & reach their potential.

There is sad news and there is good news.

According to the Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profile Page, the data about our children's reading ability in 4th grade, in aggregate, is not good. The data tells us that in our region, (Dutchess, Orange, and Ulster counties) fewer children are reading at Level 3 or above in 4th grade, than they were 10 years ago, with a significant drop just in the past reporting year. This means that on average, more than 40% of our children are testing under grade level.

This is sad news: sad for our children's futures, sad for our communities.

We know that adults who are functionally illiterate were once children who were struggling to read. These adults pay a price for being illiterate. We know that one of the common threads among groups who are failing to live productive lives: people who are incarcerated, teen parents, drug abusers, dependency on services through multi-generational families…is the inability to read with understanding. Without basic literacy skills, particularly in a largely literate society, there are no opportunities for advancement or enrichment. Potential is lost. Lives are lost. Communities react to crisis, rather than intervention and prevention.

An adult basic literacy program is comprised of students who have gone through years of poverty and despair. There are no charts that can fully calculate the human toll that under-educated people endure. They have every disadvantage from lack of opportunity. This lack of opportunity and experience too often puts their children at high risk of repeating family history. Children raised in despair feel despair.

These are the practical sides of literacy. Reading to achieve and succeed. Here is the other side: reading to explore, to think, to understand. Reading for fun. Reading to expand thinking. You may not be able to travel to another country on your next vacation, but you can go there through books. You can understand cultures that have belief systems that are completely different.

According to the Annie E. Casey foundation ("Learning to Read: Why Reading by the end of Third Grade Matters", 2010 www.aecf.org) 83% of children from low income families—and 85% of low-income students who attend high-poverty schools-failed to reach the proficient level across the country. These children are likely to become our community's lowest-income, least skilled citizens.

We know that fourth grade is important because it is the time when children need to progress from learning to read, to reading to learn (reading textbooks, writing reports, etc.) This is when the real learning begins, because the basic foundations for education are (or should be) in place.

When children do not see their parent reading for pleasure and for purpose, they do not get the most powerful message: the unspoken role modeling that reading is part of everyday life. Additionally, when children are not read to as toddlers, they do not get the pre-reading activity that their brains need to develop vocabulary and other vital skills required to learn to read.

Children up through third and even fourth grade are still malleable, still interested in learning, still wanting to please the adults in their lives. The solution is remarkably simple, and this is the good news. It is not too late, with some extra help and extra time, to help children who are slipping behind and give them the help they need by spending time with them one-to-one to give them extra time to read aloud. Teachers would like, but do not have the time, to give individual attention to every child in the classroom. We know we cannot cure a disability, but there are many children in schools who are capable of learning to read: they just need more time now with an adult, often because they didn't get it earlier in their lives.

Toward that end, Literacy Connections, an organization that provides basic literacy tutoring for adults, has begun a pilot project called Book Buddies. Book Buddies asks volunteers to donate one lunch hour a week to read with a child. It is based on a very successful program out of New York City that saw measurable reading gain among the children who participated in a program just like this. Providing extra reading time with children who are at risk or performing below grade level improves confidence and reading scores. It sets children on the path to success and opportunity.

Recognizing and understanding the problem are the first steps. This information on the Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profile could be the single most important report we ever see about our local community, because knowledge is power. Now we know there is a significant problem among our fourth graders. And, now we also know what to do about it. We, who know, owe. We owe it to those who will follow us, to understand, and to commit to the solution.

Many years ago, President Roosevelt asked people to donate dimes to fund research to eliminate polio, a nearly unthinkable mission in 1938. The March of Dimes raised an enormous amount of money in its day because many people gave a little, and the March of Dimes achieved its goal. Those who think that poverty and all the deficits associated with poverty cannot be overcome are wrong. We can help people reach their potential if we make this promise: all people who can, will learn to read.

 

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