A community campaign to improve early child literacy in Springfield, Massachusetts has won national honors.
Springfield’s “Reading Success by 4th Grade” initiative was cited for making measurable progress on eliminating barriers faced by children from low-income families that can block them from becoming proficient readers.
"Springfield is doing well," said Amy O’Leary of the Boston-based advocacy organization Strategies for Children and a representative of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. " They are a model not just in Massachusetts, but across the country."
She said Springfield’s initiative has received a Pacesetter Honor. It specifically recognizes progress Springfield has made in improving daily school attendance and reducing chronic absenteeism.
" We know that in early years absenteeism is a predictor of long-term absenteeism. So if we can use this as a parent engagement strategy, and not a punitive strategy it will encourage children to come to school," said O'Leary.
The goal of the national grade-level reading campaign is to increase the number of children who have mastered reading by the time they enter fourth grade. Research has shown reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical predictor of future academic success.
Only 40 percent of Springfield’s children read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade, but that’s an improvement over the 28 percent reading proficiency when the initiative began more than five years ago, according to Sally Fuller of the Davis Foundation and the project director for the reading success effort.
" It is incremental. It is small steps. But, it shows it takes the whole community to do this," said Fuller.
Although the schools are where the progress is determined by way of standardized tests, the child literacy effort in Springfield involves libraries, pediatricians, the public housing authority, and numbers of other organizations that regularly interact with parents and children.
" This work starts at birth. It starts with parents reading to their children to get them successful with early literacy skills by the time they get to kindergarten," explained Fuller.
Fuller said the initiative has made a concerted effort to encourage programs to counter the documented phenomenon known as “summer learning loss.”
One of the successful programs is the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative. It is a five-week program for about 400 low-income children that features field trips to museums and other places. David Cruise, the President of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, said the Hasbro program encourages literacy with science and nature themes.
" It is really an attempt to make these young people enjoy the summer, but continue to learn so that when they go back to school in September they can pick up from where they left off in June," said Cruise. " It is a good program. We've been at it for a few years and we are very excited about it."
There are about 250 communities participating in the national grade-level reading campaign. Springfield is one of 38 Pacesetter award-winners that will be honored at a luncheon in Washington, D.C. on April 7.