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Guest Voz — 150+ Cities Pledge to Help More Children Master Reading

LatinaLista — Mastering literacy is more than just being able to read words in a book. It also means the reader is learning to comprehend what is being read. When anyone, a child or an adult, has that skill the world is the limit.

Anecdotal stories of kids who drop out of school almost always include descriptions of the same kids being embarrassed in class because of their poor reading skills. As our society moves towards a future that will not only require workers to be literate but technologically savvy, it can no longer be an option that children not learn how to read.

Unfortunately, the biggest literacy gap exists between low-income children and their peers. A national initiative wants to change that.

Called The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the initiative is bringing together organizations, community and business leaders to work together to get more low-income children reading at grade level.

One organization supporting the campaign is the National Civic League. Gloria Rubio-Cortes, president of the National Civic League, explains the importance of the campaign and why its success is imperative for the nation.

When I returned to Denver, my hometown, several years ago, I promised myself that I would do something to help future generations succeed in school and in life.

As soon as I heard about the opportunity to partner with The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, I realized this was the chance to make a real difference on a very large scale.

In today’s economy getting a good education is the key to a prosperous future. I know that it was an important factor in my own life.

Becoming a proficient reader is the fundamental skill on the path to academic success, from the early grades through high school graduation and beyond.

Research shows that children who do not develop solid reading skills by third grade are far less likely to graduate high school, and struggling readers who live in poverty are in even greater jeopardy of failing.

That’s why it is so troubling that so many children, and particularly Latino children, are not proficient readers by the end of third grade.

This is a critical milestone in their academic development when the focus shifts from learning to read to applying those skills to more advanced content in science, social studies and other core subjects.

Yet half of all Hispanic children cannot even perform basic reading tasks in the 4th grade, according to national assessment data. Those children have serious trouble locating relevant information in texts, or identifying key details that could help them interpret or draw conclusions from what they’ve read.

These results predict a troubling future for our most vulnerable children.

There is no easy solution to the reading crisis in our country. But we know it will take hard work and intense focus from parents, schools, and the broader community to help more children gain the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their potential.

City, school, and civic leaders across the country recognize this challenge and understand how important it is to work together to solve the problem.

How do I know?

This month, more than 150 cities and communities across the country pledged to make early literacy an urgent priority and began to formulate substantive plans for improving reading achievement for their children.

Leaders from most of our largest metropolitan areas — like Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and Denver — to smaller cities and towns are more determined than ever to take on this challenge.

As part of the All-America City Award program — founded by the National Civic League in 1949 — the organization I have the honor of leading, these cities are working to create compelling, realistic, and sustainable strategies for tackling some of the barriers to reading achievement, particularly: school readiness, chronic absence, and summer learning loss.

Leaders involved in this effort realize that schools are central to getting children on the path to academic success, and that we must continue to work to improve educational opportunities for all our children.

But parents and the community must be central partners in helping kids develop to their fullest potential. That’s why communities need to tackle some of the barriers to school success, and ultimately support the work of educators.

After all, it’s harder to teach when children come to kindergarten unprepared to learn, harder still when they miss too many days of school or when they forget much of what they learn over the summer months.

Through the grade-level reading initiative, communities can start to help schools with these pervasive problems that keep too many children from learning to read.

Now with a critical mass of cities and communities joining this movement, along with the thousands of municipal and civic leaders, activists, volunteers, and citizens working together to solve this problem, we have an unprecedented chance of moving the needle on reading achievement and creating brighter futures for all our children.

Gloria Rubio-Cortes, president of National Civic League, is also the executive editor of NCL’s National Civic Review. Her 30-year career has included working with civil rights, community building, civic engagement and social justice issues.

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