*This post originally appeared on the Salesforce.org blog on September 5, 2019. It has been slightly updated from its original version.
By: Sarah Balcazar, National Senior Manager of Marketing & Communications, Reading Partners
In a literate world, we have the luxury of enjoying our favorite books on a rainy day. We read our bills, calculate our taxes, and read the labels on the foods we consume. We spend hours on end searching the internet for answers to our most pressing questions, and dedicate plenty of time to connecting with friends and family on social media. In a literate world, we live our daily lives free of the fear, burden, or embarrassment of not being able to read.
For individuals living in a literate world, it can be hard to imagine navigating life without the ability to read or write. That’s because literacy is such an integral component of our daily lives. To read and write is a skill that most kids in the United States are expected to learn at an early age. Yet, 78 percent of low-income students in the U.S. read below grade level at the end of fourth grade. That statistic is even more pertinent in 2020 as the school closures and remote learning as a result of coronavirus threaten to set kids even further behind.
International Literacy Day is meant to bring public awareness to literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. So, global pandemic or not, let’s join together this International Literacy Day 2020, to build a more inclusive, supported, and literate world. Here are six simple, yet impactful ways you can take action to advance literacy.
Tutor a Child in Your Community
A student with a volunteer tutor
The ability to read is a launching point for academic achievement and long-term success. At a more basic level, literacy is a necessary skill for daily life. From reading a menu to understanding bills to completing a rental agreement, reading is essential. Yet, many students in the United States don’t have the adequate support to build strong literacy skills during the critical early developmental years prior to fourth grade.
No matter what barriers students may face, kids are incredibly resilient and very motivated to learn. The support of a tutor offering one-on-one attention is a game changer for students wanting to advance their skills to catch up to their appropriate grade level in reading.
Tutoring one hour a week throughout the school year is one of the best ways to make a direct and lasting impact on a local student, but volunteering for one day is also a great starting point. Many schools and organizations are offering online tutoring options this year as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collect books to build kids’ home libraries
It’s no secret that having exposure to books at home has a tremendous impact on literacy development and cognition. Mounting evidence suggests that kids with more access to books in their homes achieve higher literacy rates than kids with significantly fewer books.
Over the past 20 years, Reading Partners has distributed more than 1,000,000 books through the Take Reading Home program—most of which are donated by volunteers, community members, and other partners. It takes a lot of book donations to keep Take Reading Home shelves stocked with age- and skill-level appropriate books. You can help fill these shelves by hosting a book drive or collecting book donations from your friends and family.
Start a book club at your place of work
If you are looking for a way to become more literacy-focused in your own life, then starting a book club at work is a fantastic way to enrich your work experience and personal development at the same time. Not to mention, it’s easy to facilitate on Zoom and it’s a great way to stay connected to friends and co-workers during a time when in-person gatherings are limited.
If an excuse for a remote social gathering in 2020 isn’t enough of a reason to get a book club going, the benefits of reading should definitely do the trick. Reading can lower levels of stress, increase brain function, and boost overall levels of happiness and life satisfaction. I think we can all agree that those things are especially needed this year.
Use International Literacy Day as the perfect excuse to launch your book club! Here are some quick tips for making your club a resounding success:
- Pick a book that is approachable and beneficial to all participants. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown is a great example of a book well-suited for a workplace book club.
- Find a time that works for everyone. Get input from participants about how often and at what time everyone can meet.
- Don’t stress about reading the whole book in one week. Your book club will be more approachable if you set easy and inclusive benchmarks. Start with one chapter or section per month.
- Prepare for productive conversations. The facilitator should come prepared with some interesting discussion questions and topics of conversation from the text.
Fund a student’s literacy tutoring
The students who are most in need of additional literacy support are often the ones who have the most limited access to it. The cost of literacy tutoring can be a huge burden to families who are already financially strained. If you are in a position to help, and believe a child’s ability to build strong literacy skills should not depend on the economic status of his or her family, then consider making a financial contribution. The cost to provide one-on-one literacy tutoring for one student in the Reading Partners program is $1,100 for twice-weekly sessions throughout the year. That’s less than $100 per month to sponsor one student for a full year. Ultimately, any amount helps.
Organize a volunteer day at a local elementary school
While this option might not be feasible in 2020 due to COVID-19, this is an option to keep in mind for future school years. It’s a great option if weekly volunteering doesn’t sound like an appropriate fit for you, as there are often opportunities for one-time or occasional volunteer days. A lesser commitment might be a better fit for your schedule, while still allowing you to help someone learn to read. Gather up to 25 of your peers and get ready to make a big impact in a single day of tutoring. Don’t underestimate the impact that a couple of hours can have–just 20 individuals volunteering for half a day can deliver 60 hours of tutoring!
Use your literacy skills to build awareness
If literacy education is something you are passionate about, then use the power of your voice and written word to raise awareness during International Literacy Day and beyond. Learn the facts about the literacy challenge we are facing in the United States and encourage your networks to take action. The work of building a literate, educated, and equitable future will only be successful with steadfast, dedicated, and collective actions of many passionate individuals.
In the words of Coretta Scott King:
"In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.”
About the Author
Sarah Balcazar is the national senior manager of marketing and communications at Reading Partners—a national literacy organization that mobilizes community volunteers to provide one-on-one literacy tutoring to students in under-resourced schools, putting students on a path to reading on grade level by fourth grade. Connect with her on LinkedIn.