Literacy Champions Excite Children About Reading

About 75 children from PEACE, Inc.’s Head Start program gathered at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo on March 2nd to celebrate Read Across America Day, set on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. The Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County and the Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo hosted this Dr. Seuss-themed event to announce the ten recipients of more than $62,178 in Literacy Champion grants.

The Literacy Coalition awards annual Literacy Champion grants to organizations that target the goals of the Coalition: to engage children and parents in reading and learning to increase literacy in the region. The Literacy Coalition is a group of more than 50 community organizations that are working together to improve the County’s literacy rate. The Central New York Community Foundation is a co-founder, managing partner and financial supporter of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.

This year, the Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s Tadpole Academy program and MANOS Intergenerational Learning circles received $10,000 each.  Seven other organizations received grants to conduct programs that enhance the Imagination Library program, which distributes one book per month to over 2,000 City of Syracuse children under the age of five. These enhancement programs range from targeting literacy of immigration communities, to dramatic readings conducted by the Redhouse Arts Center. The Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo also received a grant to study best practices for engaging families in reading.

These grants have become a cornerstone of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County and its participation in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national effort designed to help children from low-income families to read proficiently by the end of third grade. The Literacy Coalition has adopted the Campaign’s goals of addressing school readiness, chronic absences, and summer learning loss.

Third grade is a critical year for students. Studies have shown that they transition at this point from learning to read to reading to learn.

“If they’re behind in literacy, they’ll stay behind,” said Ginny Carmody, Executive Director of the Literacy Coalition. “If students haven’t become literate by this point, they are more likely to drop out of school and fall into a cycle of academic and economic failure.”

As this video from the Campaign of Grade Level Reading shows, students from low-income neighborhoods are already at a disadvantaged position for reaching this third grade goal. Low-income kids are already 12-14 months behind in their education by the time they reach kindergarten. By their third birthday, children from low-income households have been exposed to 30,000,000 fewer words than those from middle- or high-income households. These disadvantaged students are also apt to lose 2 months of school learning every summer due to limited access to summer programs.

By targeting school readiness, chronic absences, and summer learning loss, the Literacy Coalition is combating the bad influences that prey on low income students.

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