GREAT FALLS — Decades of research has shown that there’s a correlation between poverty, lack of access to reading materials, and lower literacy rates. This year KRTV and the Scripps Howard Foundation are aiming to bridge that gap through the “If You Give a Child a Book…” campaign.
This year’s recipient is Sunnyside Elementary School in Great Falls, and to the teachers, students, and staff who fill the hallways it’s a special place.
“The biggest thing that I've found here and part of the reason I wanted to come here is just the Sunnyside family, the feeling of a tight knit community,” said principal Brian Held. “Everybody looking out for each other and everybody looking out for our kids and our families.”
It’s a place where you can spark a lifelong love of reading and learning. Just ask third-grade teacher Megan Schaak - she was a student at Sunnyside in the 1990’s, and now she’s beginning her teaching career here.
“It was the teachers that put their mark on me and ever since I was in Mrs. Ryerson’s first grade class I wanted to be a teacher,” Schaak said. “And so to start my career at the school that I went to has been phenomenal. I couldn't have asked for a better start.”
But the students at Sunnyside do face some challenges. Sunnyside is a Title I school, which means most students enrolled qualify for free or reduced-price lunches - and indicator of higher poverty rates. Students from low-income households often lack access to books in the home, and that puts them at a disadvantage to many of their peers.
Lacee Lewis and Lisa Moore are the intervention specialists at Sunnyside. They look at scores and progression to identify and work with students in danger of falling behind. They see the struggles many of these students face, firsthand.
“The challenges that they face is mainly that they're not being exposed to language. They're not being exposed to vocabulary. And so, without them being exposed to that, it makes it harder for them to read because they haven't heard those words or heard how language works,” Lewis said. “So, if they're being exposed to books and conversation, research shows that it gives them possibly three years more of schooling before they even enter school just by having books at a young age and a plethora of them in different genres.”
That’s why the getting books in the hands of students is so important, and programs like the “If You Give a Child a Book..” fundraising campaign are critical to ensuring future success.
Moore cites a quote that books are a mirror, a window, and a door. Children must see themselves in pages, see what’s out there through the window books provide and then use the lessons books provide them to walk through the door.
“Being able to read and read successfully opens up the world to them. So, they have lots of potential by being able to read,” Moore said. “And so this program that will allow our students to have access to more books, just give them more chances to see themselves and others and all the possibilities that are out there for them by having lots of books in their hands.”
KRTV and the Scripps Howard Foundation believe that if you give a child a book, you give a child a chance. Every $5 donation pays for a book that a student will get to take home, keep, and call their very own.
If you would like to make a donation, you can visit KRTV.com/giveabook, or you can text KRTV to 345345.
Last year's campaign benefited West Elementary School, and with generous donations from the community and a matching gift from the Scripps Howard Foundation, raised more than $11,000 toward the purchase of five books per student at West.
Childhood Literacy and Academic Success
The literacy forecast for America’s children is sobering. According to the 2019 study by the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), twenty-five million children in the U.S. cannot read proficiently.
- Developing that passion for reading is crucial, according to Jim Trelease, author of the best-seller, The Read-Aloud Handbook. "Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much, cannot get better at it."
- More than one in three children arrive at kindergarten without the skills necessary for lifetime learning (Read Aloud 15 Minutes).
- A child not reading at grade level by the end of first grade has an 88% chance of not reading at grade level by the end of fourth grade (Annie E. Casey Foundation).
- This early setback sets the stage for future challenges. Children who do not read on level by the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school (Annie E. Casey Foundation). Children in poverty fare worse, being 13 times less likely to graduate.
The "Decline By Nine”
- A child turning nine is generally found in a third grade classroom, a critical year in a child’s academic journey. Landmark research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation has previously shown that reaching reading proficiency by third grade is a clear predictor of academic success. And yet the “Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report” finds it is just at that stage that children's frequency of reading books for fun begins to drop. Only 35% of nine-year- olds report reading 5–7 days a week compared to 57% of eight-year-olds.
- The children who are truly at risk in this country are those who cannot read. Academic, emotional and social issues abound for children who are poor readers. Children who are behind their peers in reading struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. Low achievement in reading also is the common denominator in school discipline, attendance and dropout problems and juvenile crime (The Children’s Reading Foundation).
- Academically, children who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade struggle in every class, year after year, because over 85% of the curriculum is taught by reading. Reading is the skill by which students get information from books, computers, worksheets and boards to learn math, science, literature, social studies and more (The Children’s Reading Foundation).
The Impact on Lifetime Achievement
- The negative trajectory of not being proficient in reading as a child follows many into adulthood. As they become parents, their children will follow a similar path. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72% chance of being non-proficient readers themselves.
- Third graders who cannot read on grade level today are on track to be our nation’s lowest income, least skilled citizens. Reading is a prerequisite for most adult employment, continued personal achievement and for a continued democracy. And sadly, some states use their elementary students’ reading failure rates to predict future prison sizes (The Children’s Reading Foundation).
The Correlated Impact of Poverty
Poverty exacerbates the literacy divide even further.
- A child from a low-income family enters first grade with an average of only 25 hours of one-to-one picture book reading, compared with 1,000 to 1,700 hours for a child from a typical middle-class home (Beginning to Read).
- In economically disadvantaged areas, there is one age-appropriate book for every 300 children, as compared to an average of 13 books in the homes of their more affluent peers (Handbook of Early Literacy Research).
- While many of the statistics paint a bleak picture, there is hope on the horizon. If a child grows up in a home with 100 books, they have a 90% probability of completing 9th grade, compared to 30% in bookless homes. (Reading is Fundamental)
Impact of COVID-19
- The arrival of COVID-19 has further exposed the educational disparities for children in our most economically challenged neighborhoods. The June 2020 study by McKinsey & Company estimates that “while the average loss of learning due to the pandemic is nearly seven months, black students could fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year.” The McKinsey report notes that this will likely exacerbate existing achievement gaps by 15-20%.
- The long-term impact is even more disheartening. According to McKinsey & Co., “School shutdowns not only cause disproportionate learning losses for these students, compounding existing gaps, but will also lead more students to drop out. The learning loss and higher dropout rates are not likely to be temporary shocks easily erased in the next academic year.” The outlook for economically disadvantaged children was grim before COVID-19. In light of these new challenges, failure to build resource support for these students could be catastrophic.
Access to Diverse Reading Materials
- According to the 2019 Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, “When kids choose, they read. Across demographics, 89% of kids agree their favorite books are the ones that they have picked out themselves.”
- The importance of diverse reading materials also cannot be overstated. When children have access to reading materials that represent different abilities, cultures, beliefs, races and ethnicities, they influence attitudes toward those differences. In the process, these books foster positive self-esteem, nurture respect, empathy and acceptance and bring people together.