Reading for Life: Literacy and Extended Learning

by Rhonda H. Lauer on July 21, 2010

Rhonda H Lauer

As part of the exciting series Reading for Life, Foundations’ President and CEO Rhonda H. Lauer shares her expertise and insights about grade level reading. Join Ms. Lauer as she offers key viewpoints and commentary based on her extensive experience working in Philadelphia–and across the country–to give our children and young people the educational opportunities they deserve.

Our kids can’t read. Across the country teachers, parents, employers, and policy makers agree that our kids are drastically unequipped with the literacy skills they need to succeed in higher education and the workplace. The school day is not long enough to develop many key literacy skills – including forging a deep connection to and love of the written word – our kids need. Nor is the day long enough to help struggling readers catch-up to their peers. Extending the traditional school day is not the answer. By the time the bell rings at 3:30, kids need something that looks very different from the school day. Afterschool programs that unlock children’s passion and creativity and then channel that passion and creativity in reading, writing, and making meaning from text is a powerful antidote to the typical afterschool program, which research tells us is not greatly impacting literacy levels.

Extended learning opportunities like afterschool and summer programs provide an enormous opportunity to build literacy, particularly for struggling readers who, studies show, benefit the most from high-quality, literacy-infused out-of-school time programming. Unfortunately, this opportunity is often missed. Through my work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative, helping schools develop strategies to dramatically improve reading levels, I have become familiar with the on-the ground challenges to developing robust literacy activities in afterschool time.

As I reflect on the work of our Center for Afterschool Education at Foundations, I am reminded of the incredibly important work of professionalizing and building the field of afterschool education as a distinct profession that requires a specialized skill-set. I firmly believe that afterschool literacy development can be an important lever for improving the reading levels of our most struggling readers. Research tells us it is possible; however it will take a paradigm shift in order for afterschool programs to have a dramatic impact on the literacy levels of our most vulnerable children. We owe it to our kids to make sure we are providing them every avenue and opportunity to succeed, starting with afterschool programs that get results — real, measureable improvements in reading levels.

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