Raising A Reader
SLO County is fortunate to have a high quality education system and dedicated school districts serving the families of our community. Local schools consistently score higher than the state average on the Academic Performance Index (API). However, the data on students from low-income families, shows a clear “achievement gap”. Students who are English language learners and those living in poverty rank 15 to 40% lower in academic achievement than their peers. The percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch programs (the measure for poverty) has increased significantly; 43% in 2011 vs. 29% in 2001. Many of these students do not have books in their home.
Recognizing that early intervention programs during the pre-school years are a significant key to closing the achievement gap, The Community Foundation brought the Raising a Reader (RAR) Program to SLO County as an initiative in 2003. Partnering with the First 5 Commission of SLO County, The Community Foundation committed $40,000 over 4 years to launch RAR in the two communities with the lowest performing elementary schools. Ten years later, there are RAR programs in 24 classrooms at 17 sites across 7 communities in SLO County.
Raising a Reader is an award-winning nationally recognized early literacy program which provides simple training to parents and access to preschool books. Bright red bags filled with books are rotated into the home from pre-school sites on a weekly basis. Parents are provided training on how to establish a read-together routine referred to by the program as “book cuddling”. Upon completion of the program, children are given a blue book bag to keep and use when going to the library.
Is Raising A Reader making a difference?
Since the program began in SLO County, over 2,000 families have participated. Participants are predominantly Spanish speakers (63%) of moderate education (68% high school or below), and low-income (78%).
In the area of reading frequency, children were more likely to ask to be read to after participating in Raising a Reader, increasing 13% over the baseline. Parents reported their children being read to more frequently, increasing 9% over the baseline. More families reported having a reading routine, increasing 31% over the baseline. And children’s behavior while being read to also changed: they were 35% more likely to ask questions; 24% more likely to sit quietly listening; and 21% more likely to “read” the book to parents, all markers of increased child literacy.
At a recent End of Year Celebration in Shandon, the mother of a child in the Las Vinas Migrant Headstart program shared that since participating in Raising a Reader, her daughter asks to be read to every evening. The daughter and her older sibling now know the routine that after dinner is bathtime, then reading time. And most rewarding of all, her husband, who is illiterate, has participated in the routine by “telling a story” based on the pictures in the book. After having resisted for a long time, he has decided to enroll himself in a literacy program.
The Raising A Reader program is managed by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education and the Raising A Reader Fund that supports the program is held by The Community Foundation.