National book month to help improve child literacy rates

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)—Some calendars mark January as national book month, and this month literacy experts say it’s crucial to read with young people. Data shows, literacy is declining within the United States. According to The Michigan Department of Education’s fast facts sheet, 3rd-grade reading proficiency in 2018 and 2019 was at 45 percent.

However, children are growing up in a world influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and attending classes virtually using platforms such as Zoom.

According to a prior report by The New York Times, literacy rates are decreasing among 4th and 8th graders nationally.

Pamela Good is the CEO, President, and co-founder of “Beyond Basics,” a literacy nonprofit dedicated to fighting illiteracy among the youth of all ages. 

 The organization works with youth in Detroit and surrounding Michigan communities. 

 It has provided virtual tutoring help, and even sent literacy kits to parents. Despite the pandemic, Good states reading could be a strenuous activity for some people regardless of age.

“When they’re home and they have a parent who isn’t a good reader they’re totally lost,” Good stated, “So, to be able to improve, or gain knowledge, they’re not independent to do it on their own because they’re relying on their family who may, or may not know how to read.”

However, Good recommends observing National Book Month to gain knowledge, vocabulary, and build strong relationships. Good’s advice for parents with elementary-age children is to stay positive and supportive. 

“You just want to read to them, and you want to read to them often,” Good said, “You want it to be a wonderful experience, and you want to talk about what they’re reading, but you don’t want to quiz them have them feel pressured around it.”

According to the kids count data from the Michigan League for Public Policy Ingham county’s fourth-grade English language arts proficiency stands at 53.3%.

“The cities like Lansing, Flint, Pontiac, and Detroit have a non-proficiency of about 85 percent of kids.” Good stated.

Brandy Bugni, literacy manager for the Michigan Department of Education, stated the trend in data during the COVID-19 pandemic is hard to gauge. However, Bugni says the state has made changes.

“The state literacy funding for this year because of the pandemic was expanded for pre-k through 12,” Bugni said. “Now schools can use those resources for pre-k through grade 12 to support literacy. This is really great, and that includes access to intermediate school district early literacy coaches. So, all schools have access to a regional coach, now those coaches are able to support a broader range of students for literacy.”

Even though it’s National Book Month literacy experts say children should read every day.

“Parents can always reach out to their child’s teacher in school for specific things that will really help with what the learning is in the classroom,” Bugni said, “And I think we can make use of public libraries because there are so many great programs they offer all year round.”

Months dedicated to reading, writing, learning, and promoting literacy have a deeper meaning for both Bugni and Good. They both say, as a community, everyone needs to address the illiteracy epidemic.

“Reading is so important for all ages of life,” Bugni expressed, “and I think putting that as a spotlight, and sharing ways we can best influence, and support more people to read, more children to read. I think that is a really good reason for supporting national book month.”

Good believes acknowledging the education gap and making literacy a dinner-table conversation is the first step to addressing the initial problem.

“We promote book month without acknowledging you have 80 percent of kids who can’t read in the school district, Good said, “They can’t read a book. They don’t know what’s between the covers.”

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