Philly is riding high on our sports teams this week, with the Phillies moving on to the National League Division Series and the Birds heading into Sunday undefeated. But our city’s champions of literacy hope to imbue that same city-wide fervor into another communal experience: Reading Promise Week.
The annual festival founded by the nonprofit Read by 4th will run from October 7 to 15 this year, with a mission to address Philly’s early literacy crisis through community strength and joy. In Philadelphia, two out of three children are not reading at grade level when they reach fourth grade. Extensive research exploring the science of reading has shown that attention, emotion, and motivation are just as important as language comprehension, phonics, and word recognition in becoming a strong early reader. So throughout the week, children, families, and community members will have access to free programming, books, and literacy kits that are research-backed as well as fun and engaging.
Reading Promise events
Point Breeze will host a “Fall Into Reading” block party, with live entertainment, raffles, and literacy stations, on South 18th Street between Wharton and Federal. Whitman Library on Snyder Ave. will host a workshop on October 13 for 6- to 10-year-olds on dance, improvisation, and exploring the relationship between “movement and action words” from books using music and sound.
In Malcolm X. Memorial Park in West Philly next Sunday, October 15, there will be a community kite-flying event. Many sites will feature local children’s books authors, like Thembi Palmer at Historic Fair Hill next Saturday, to help young people see themselves as future writers, in addition to encouraging them to become strong readers.
“Every weekend from now until the Super Bowl, we’ll be seeing the love and the passion that our whole city has for the Eagles. But when it comes to things like reading and literacy, people need to have positive associations.” — Clinton Drees, Special Projects Manager for Read by 4th
Clinton Drees, special projects manager for Read by 4th, says that when it comes to curating an event of this scope, it’s about fostering positive associations with reading. “A big part of Reading Promise Week is a celebration,” he says. “Every weekend from now until the Super Bowl, we’ll be seeing the love and the passion that our whole city has for the Eagles. But when it comes to things like reading and literacy, people need to have positive associations, and not just an association of being forced to read something … but letting kids go and pick out a book that they want that resonates with them and is of interest to them.”
Planning for the festival began in the spring; input from the community was integral from the start. Among the free books available — 16,000 total, and 11,000 literacy kits packed with tools for every age group, like a maraca for kids learning phonemic awareness — at Reading Promise Week sites across the city, community members will see titles that they had a say in choosing, like The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali; Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard; and Home Is in Between by Mitali Perkins.
Reading at home
Another essential part of Reading Promise Week: Providing resources to support families in bringing out children’s literacy skills at home. These are informed by five core tenets, the “reading promises”:
- Make reading together a dedicated time.
- Talk with our children so that they feel seen and heard.
- Champion their school success.
- Make time for the power of play and imagination.
- Protect our children’s right to read.
As families are children’s first teachers, engaging them to create learning environments in everyday spaces is critical.
Despite the grim statistics, Jenny Bogoni, executive director of Read by 4th, says families are committed to showing up for their young readers, and Reading Promise Week is helping to change the narrative on how we think about early literacy, as something a city with high poverty and overwhelmed parents and schools cannot solve. “I haven’t met a single family in this city that doesn’t want their child to grow up to be a strong reader,” she says.
After the week of programming wraps up, Bogoni says people can continue to make a tangible impact on the early literacy crisis. You can create a sidewalk library in your neighborhood, for example, and keep it stocked with children’s books. Or, sign up to become a volunteer Reading Captain with Read by 4th. About half the events during Reading Promise Week are run by Reading Captains. As literacy advocates for their communities, Drees says Reading Captains are doing heroic work.
“Literacy can be a lifelong plague on an individual,” he says. “It impacts their ability to communicate, it impacts their ability to express themselves…and we want to have a community, a city, a country that is literate, that is able to communicate their ideas and resources.”
More than 70 events city wide, October 7 to 15; see full details here.
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