by Sue Ann Rybak

Mt. Airy USA is partnering with Read by 4th, a citywide effort to ensure that all students receive the support needed to read on grade level by the time they reach fourth grade, to host a free workshop for volunteers to become Reading Captains or reading ambassadors on Saturday, Nov. 11, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Work Mt. Airy, 6700 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy.

Jenny Bogoni, executive director of Read by 4th, said the organization is excited about the new initiative “Reading Captains.”

“We deeply believe that one of the key answers for shifting literacy outcomes for our children lies in unlocking the power of families,” she said. “We know families already have what it takes to raise readers. They just need someone to show them how.”

Gary King, community coordinator for Mt. Airy Reads, said research shows that if children are not reading on grade level by fourth grade, they will continue to fall behind. He said in third grade, children are shifting from learning to read to reading to learn.

“If a student can’t read properly heading into fourth grade, everything then becomes just another reading test because they can’t even get to the actual content,” he said

According to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, entitled “Double Jeopardy: How Poverty and Third-Grade Reading Skills Influence High School Graduation,” one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

In Philadelphia, just over half of students can read at grade level by the end of the third grade.

“We want to target these students who lag behind in reading, and Reading Captains is one powerful new idea that we, together with dozens of partner organizations, have come up with,” King said.

He noted that Reading Captains will be literacy ambassadors for children in their community.

“We need people who are interested in being a resource for neighbors on their block, helping to promote ongoing literacy-related activities such as library events, tutoring opportunities, and back-to-school nights in their neighborhood,” King said. “Reading happens everywhere – in our schools, work, homes, and even our blocks; but we need you … And while it’s true many of our young children in Philadelphia struggle with reading, we can change this with your help.”

Barbara Bloom, the founder of a group of longtime tutors at Houston Elementary School, said the Reading Captains initiative has great potential to assist with ongoing neighborhood efforts both inside and outside the classroom.

“As someone who volunteers to work with young learners and reading, I can testify that nothing is more exciting than watching a child catch on to what reading is about,” she said. “It’s rewarding and fun to connect with kids and make reading a positive experience. The Reading Captains initiative could serve as a bridge between the support our kids get in school and at home, by connecting parents with ongoing literacy enrichment programs outside of the school day. That would be a very powerful model that could pay dividends not just in reading scores, but in life.”

Bloom’s colleague and fellow tutor for many years at Houston, Elayne Blender, agreed.

“As a tutor, it is wonderful to observe children as they learn new words, laugh at a book and understand what it’s all about,” she said. “But one aspect of our job that is always a challenge is ensuring that the habits and strategies we’re using as tutors during the day are aligning with what happens at home. I think Reading Captains has the potential to possibly assist in that regard – helping add another layer of connection at the neighborhood level in the form of motivated and invested individuals, who care to take the time to connect their neighbors with the wealth of literacy-based programs, ideas, and activities that are always ongoing.”

Step up and be a Reading Captain for families on your block. All you need is to be 18 years old, someone who enjoys talking with your neighbors, and able to attend a free two-hour training workshop.

For more information about the Reading Captains Workshop email Gary King at gking@mtairyusa.org or call (215) 844-6021 ex. 231.

This article was updated on Nov. 6. An earlier version of this article erroneously reported that Elayne Bender was Bloom’s fellow tutor and colleague. It should have said Elayne Blender. 

...