How do we get every child reading at grade level?

Margaret BernsteinGuest blogger, Margaret Bernstein is a local ambassador for literacy. She’s also the director of advocacy and community initiatives at WKYC. 

Teaching Cleveland’s children to love reading could solve a boatload of other problems.

Here’s why: Students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school, studies show. And an estimated two-thirds of students who can’t read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

In other words, when youngsters struggle with their school books they lose interest, sometimes turning to crime, drugs and gangs. Which is why it’s so troubling that 42 percent of third-graders in Cleveland schools scored “below proficient” on the third grade reading assessment in 2013-2014.

So, how do we get every child in Northeast Ohio reading at grade level?

The answer is easier than it sounds – when parents read 20 minutes a day with their child, it greatly increases the chances that their child will be a proficient reader who grows up to love books.

That’s why WKYC has chosen literacy as its top community priority for 2015. Our hope is to effectively use our influence as a television station to inspire parents to read with their children.

Dad and son readingTogether with Third Federal,  WKYC launched a literacy campaign, #WeReadHere,” to encourage parents to read daily with their kids and to post “reading selfies” on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

“Parents, would you like your child to be on television?” we ask. “Take a reading selfie when you read a bedtime story tonight, and post it on social media using the hashtag #WeReadHere.”

Our campaign is now in its third month and it continues to gain new partners. Hundreds of families have responded. We show off their beautiful reading selfies on our newscasts on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Now that school is out, we’ve shifted our message and are focusing on the need for kids to read during the summer. We’ve even brought on board 8-year-old Madison Reid, the Cleveland student whose “The world needs books” went viral last year. Madison, a fifth grader at Wade Park School, is WKYC’s “Summer Reading Correspondent” and will file a weekly report from a local library.

And of course, it was a natural fit for WKYC to embrace United Way’s Stuff the Bus with Books campaign this month.

Stuff the Bus Logo_finalWe collected books here at WKYC! And if you’re headed to the Indians game Sunday, be sure to bring a book. United Way will be there collecting new and gently used children’s and young adult books to be distributed to students in Cleveland and East Cleveland schools.

Statistics show that low-income children tend to backtrack academically during the summer months, but participating in a reading program is an effective way for them to battle the summer slide.

Our #WeReadHere outreach efforts are crafted to inspire and educate, by letting parents know that reading is the key that can unlock success for their kids – and for them too. Through our partnership with The Literacy Cooperative, we continue to encourage parents who lack reading skills themselves to dial United Way 2-1-1 for assistance in finding remedial reading classes.

Developing a new generation of readers really does start in the home. We’re encouraged by the many heartwarming reading selfies posted on social media so far – and hope to see more families creating 20-minute-a-day reading rituals of their own.

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