Helping Children Bridge the Literacy Gap

by Pamela Good

Cofounder and CEO, Beyond Basics
Published On: March 11, 2022Categories: Insights, Social Justice

Intro by The Vella Group: Many of us have fond memories of reading “Green Eggs and Ham” to little ones or recall the book as playing a key role in learning to read. “Green Eggs and Ham” uses only 50 words to create an entertaining and engaging story. It was written by Dr. Suess and came about as a friendly wager that a book could not be written using only 50 words. Dr. Suess won, of course, and we celebrate National Reading Month in March in honor of his birthday.

During National Reading Month, school children are encouraged to read daily. Reading is a great habit to develop because it improves comprehension, enhances analytical abilities, increases imagination and boosts memory. However, for many capable people around the world, reading is a cause for frustration and shame. We are deeply entrenched in a literacy crisis, only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Michigan, about 42.8% of third-graders passed the state assessment in English language arts in 2021, compared with 45.1% two years earlier. That means approximately 60% of Michigan third-graders fall into the literacy gap where they are not reading at grade level. The issue affects all communities, and the gap only grows if we are unable to get students back on track.

How do we overcome such a monumental hurdle? Our friends at Beyond Basics have been working in the literacy arena for more than a decade and have a proven approach to combat the literacy crisis. Read on to find out more.

Quandallis is a self-aware young man who speaks openly about his struggles as a reader. A student at Denby High School in Detroit, Michigan, he began the 2021-22 school year unable to break down multisyllabic words or understand their meaning.

Only intensive intervention would help him get up to speed. When he was identified as a candidate for Beyond Basics reading tutoring, he embraced the opportunity to access resources that would level the playing field for him. Working with a dedicated tutor an hour a day, five days a week, his comprehension increased, his reading went from “choppy to smooth” and his essay writing improved, earning him an A on a recent assignment.

Where he once felt shame, Quandallis says he now feels “pride.” He credits his tutor, Tina Walker, with his success as a reader and writer.

At Beyond Basics, we encounter students like Quandallis every day, students who are bright and capable, and yet cannot read at grade level. Due to personal circumstances, societal ills or pandemic disruptions, they have fallen into the “literacy gap,” reading more than a grade level behind.

It is our privilege to partner with schools to provide a proven solution: a diagnostic assessment that informs an individualized reading plan delivered by a trained tutor. Working together, student and tutor develop a relationship that sets the foundation for success. Our data shows grade-level movement in an average of six weeks. Students move out of the literacy gap and into a future where they can access their education, graduate and look to the future with optimism. For Quandallis, the next step is college – and beyond.

For generations, the American public education model has opened the doors of opportunity wide to all children and has been a pathway out of poverty for the most vulnerable among us. Its flaw is teaching reading as one-size-fits-all. Some students have always needed individualized, intensive, relationship-centered tutoring support to learn to read.

As we celebrate National Reading Month, a time of increased focus on the joys of reading, let us also awaken to the crisis of illiteracy, determined to meet the needs of all students so that they, too, can enjoy the pleasure of a good book. Our future depends on all our children receiving the opportunity to fully realize their education and life potential.

About the author: Pamela Good is cofounder and CEO of Beyond Basics, a nonprofit organization offering structured literacy interventions to students in metropolitan Detroit. The Beyond Basics data-driven, multisensory program helps students achieve grade-level movement in an average of six weeks. What began as a volunteer initiative has grown to become a $10 million organization that partners with Detroit area schools serving vulnerable communities.

The Beyond Basics Coming Together for Children Annual Event will be held Friday, March 25, 2022, at the Detroit Athletic Club. Purchase tickets here. Learn to become a literacy advocate and get involved here.

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