Born to Read Camden
The Campaign for Grade Level Reading
The Born to Read initiative is run by Center for Family Services (CFS), which is a 90 year old organization with more than 50 programs throughout Camden City and Camden County. We have partnered with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to make sure that children in Camden are reading on grade level by third grade.
The overarching goal of Born to Read is to increase the number of children that are reading at grade level by the end of third grade by raising expectations, reducing summer learning loss, promoting regular attendance, and increasing kindergarten readiness.
We kicked off the start of our Born to Read initiative by having Camden’s Mayor, Dana Redd, come out on the National Service Day, at one of our centers, and read a story to all of the children in the classroom. Not only was Mayor Redd there but also the local press attended the event, which publicized the campaign and the importance of literacy. Our AmeriCorps VISTA members also participated in the celebration by reading one on one with the students at the center.
Over the past year we have been raising expectations by attending parent meetings and talking about the importance of reading. Not only do we inform them that they should be reading for 20 minutes daily, but we encourage them to volunteer with Born to Read in order to spend time in the classrooms reading to the students. Bookmarks have been created to inform parents about the importance of reading and to attract volunteers. We attended our second annual Fatherhood March, where dads came out to show their commitment to their children’s education and to show that dads are and need to be involved in it. At the event we distributed books and bookmarks to the fathers and encouraged them to read to their child(ren). Another way we are raising expectations is by recruiting volunteers to go into our Head Start classrooms and read to the children. During the last year this has proved a little more difficult than expected, especially getting volunteers to commit to the program’s required hours. This year we are partnering up with BookMates, which is an early literacy program that provides one on one reading volunteers to schools in South Jersey, to recruit volunteers for our Pre-K classrooms. We hope to combat this issue by going out into the community more and by partnering up with groups such as faith based organizations, universities and businesses that are interested in committing to reading for one hour a week for the entire school year.
We addressed summer learning loss by providing summer packs to every student in our Head Start program before the school year let out. In the packs we provided books that they could enjoy with their parents, a marker and laminated tracing sheets to practice their fine motor skills. During summer months we had two locations that were running summer programs, where children received nutritious meals, were mentally and physically engaged through outside play, reading books, and making sure that they did not lose any of the information gained during the school year. For the first day of the summer program we had a Welcome Summer event, where, through donations, we were able to provide 2 books to every child, along with flyers for parents to get different ideas about how they can stymie the summer learning loss that occurs in low-income communities.
For the Kindergarten Readiness component of Born to Read, Center for Family Services and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey were able to provide backpacks to all of the children at the end of the summer program. Each backpack had 3 to 4 books in them and parents received magnets with literacy tips that they could use throughout the year. When school started we also provided backpacks with books in them to all of the students in our program. Alongside Born to Read, our Family Service Advocates talked to parents about the importance of being kindergarten ready and what the child and parent needed to do in order to achieve that goal.
One unexpected benefit that we have had has been the amount of books we have received through donations. We received approximately 2500 books from individuals and organizations, which has helped us to build the home libraries of the children that our Head Start centers serve.
We have started promoting regular attendance by talking to parents about the importance of attending every day and being on time. We are also working with our teachers and family service advocates to create a survey for parents that we will be handing out at the beginning of November. We are hoping to see what some of the reasons that children do not make it to school and what we can do to help the parents that are having the most difficult time in making sure their attend every day. Born to Read is also launching a contest to see which children make it to school every day and afterwards present the parents with a certificate for bringing their child(ren) to school. By finding out what the barriers to attending every day are, addressing those needs, and launching the contest we hope to improve our attendance records.
One of our accomplishments for this new year has been that we came up with 25 early literacy tips, which we will be handing out to parents as bi-weekly flyers, and posting them throughout our centers so that parents can also see them. The flyers will match the posters.
We are excited about our partnership with BookMates, bringing in more volunteers to read to our students, and seeing where this year will take us! In the next few months we are going to start planning for ways to talk to parents about being kindergarten ready, and plan events and find ways to inform parents about the summer learning loss occurrence.