On the first afternoon the kids in After-3 were outside this spring, Lenaya – one of our third graders – made a bee-line for the Little Free Library in our park and quickly settled in on a bench with the book she found. That is a big change from two years ago when we first met her!
Lenaya joined After-3 as a first grader, and we immediately saw her curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. She arrived each afternoon full of energy and ready to help the staff and volunteers in any way she could. She loved to play teacher, but when it came time to do homework, she protested. She struggled with every assignment, and her results on the iReady Assessments proved what we already knew: Lenaya was reading well below grade level and would fall behind academically if she didn’t get the support she needed to improve her reading skills.
Our staff shared the results of Lenaya’s assessments with her mom and recommended Lenaya begin working with our reading specialist immediately. There was a tradeoff though. On days Lenaya would get focused tutoring in reading, she might not finish her homework at Paul’s Place and would need her mom’s help in the evenings. Fortunately, her mom agreed on the importance of Lenaya becoming a good reader.
In the second semester of first grade, Lenaya began working with our reading specialist for 30 minutes each week, and the reading specialist offered her mom tips for cultivating a love of reading at home. Slowly, Lenaya has become an avid reader. She started by reading the entire Berenstain Bears series (still her favorite books), and now she is reading chapter books. She reads in her free time at Paul’s Place and borrows books from our library to read on weekends. She also has a library card for the Enoch Pratt Free Library and frequents the Washington Village branch, bringing home stacks of books each time she visits.
The best part: now in third grade, Lenaya is reading on grade level.
She is not alone. Children from low-income families enter kindergarten an average 12- 14 months behind in language and pre-reading skills, and it is difficult for them to catch up. In fact, 69% of students in After-3 started the school year reading below grade level, and only 60% of third graders in our neighborhood pass the Reading MSA, a standard test of reading ability. Students who cannot keep up with grade level assignments are four times more likely to drop out.
At Paul’s Place, we see the long-term effects of low literacy every day and have adapted our programs to help children succeed. Reading skills are strongly emphasized in our after-school and summer programs for children and youth – and with our support, 88% of elementary students have maintained or increased their reading level since the beginning of this school year.