By Carolyn Johnson, Chair of the Literacy Rotary Action Group
One of my best memories as a young mom is reading books with my son when he was a newborn and as he grew through being a toddler, little boy, and into to his early school years. Together, through books, we visited so many places as we explored the richness of language and the power of the written word. It was a special experience between a parent and a child and one that helped ensure that he would be ready for academic success when he entered school.
Similar early experiences with language and literacy, sadly, are lacking for many children. To help close this early learning gap, LITRAG (Literacy Rotary Action Group) and Save the Children launched a partnership, Together We Read, to reach underserved and hard to reach children and their families. The partnership uses the best of both organizations to build awareness and initiate local programs that will close the achievement gap among some of our youngest learners by providing support, resources, and strategies so all parents can be their child’s first best teacher.
Why focus on early childhood literacy? Consider these facts:
- For at-risk children, the academic achievement gap starts early and can be measured in babies as young as 9 months old.
- Young children without access to high-quality preschool or early education are 25% more likely to drop out of school, 40% more likely to become teen parents, and 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
- For every dollar spent on high-quality, birth-to-five education programs there is a $7 annual return on investment.
Together, We Read connects the early education programs of Save the Children with Rotary clubs and districts to build public awareness and support to close the early learning gap and increase literacy rates, especially in rural communities. This partnership connects Save the Children’s expertise in early literacy programs with Rotary’s expertise in advocacy, connecting community leaders, developing and implementing projects, and driving public awareness – all with the aim of measurably increasing education outcomes for young children living in poverty.
As a result of Together We Read, clubs and districts have reached out to their communities with great outcomes. District 5300, under the leadership of District Governor Luanne Arredondo, brought its clubs together so they could share best practices and resources. Their first task was to coach clubs on how to do a local community assessment – to identify needs in the community and identify assets they could build on. One of the surprises from the community assessment was feedback from many parents that they did not feel confident to be their child’s teacher. One of the Rotarians’ challenges in designing outreach programs was how to get parents involved with their child’s early learning in a way that felt comfortable.
Another identified need was for young children to have access to books in the home. The Greater San Gabriel Valley Rotary Club learned that foster children often have few things they can call their own, so they created Literacy Care Bags filled with coloring and activity books, crayons and markers, games and a few books that the children chose themselves. Rotarians partnered with local businesses to acquire the materials and with social services to get them to the children. An added benefit: children had literacy activities to do while at home during the quarantine. Through the designated use of District Grants, many clubs in District 5300 were able to launch new early literacy programs – helping to stretch their fundraising and encourage potential partners to match project funds.
LITRAG and Save the Children are partnering on several endeavors to encourage and support Rotarians and Rotaractors to get involved in closing the early learning gap. We created a Roadmap to Community Engagement, to help clubs get started on identifying how they may be meaningfully involved in their own community. We also co-hosted a series of webinars to illustrate club projects, show how to mobilize your district in early learning programs, and how Rotarians can be advocates for quality early learning programs:
- People of Action & Save the Children Address the Early Learning Gap
- Activation Projects to Promote Literacy
- How to Mobilize a Literacy Initiative in your District
- Upcoming on 13 October: How – and why – Rotarians can advocate for early childhood education
Save the Children compiled relevant tools and resources to share with Rotarians: savethechildren.org/rotary.
The need to support our youngest children to access quality early learning experiences is great. Healthy development during early childhood provides the foundation for future educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation. Together, We Read is an effective partnership between LITRAG and Save the Children to support club involvement in their own communities to close the early learning gap.