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International Literacy Day: What We Can Do to Catch Up

On Monday, September 8th, the only event that we attended was a luncheon at the City Club where the program was "International Literacy Day: What We Can Do to Catch Up" and the speaker was Mr. Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. As the flyer for the program indicated, "Smith has been forging consensus around ensuring that children reach the critical development milestone of reading on grade level by the end of the third grade. The Campaign is grounded in research highlighting the alarming numbers of children who are not reading proficiently by third grade and the long-term consequences for society." Mr. Smith told us how much he loved to read as a child and that he loved "Nancy Drew", the "Hardy Boys" and "Tom Swift". He said that those characters "dreamed of things that I never could" and recalled how thrilled he was to receive a Charles Dickens reader for a birthday present-he looked forward to receiving Dickens as much as the young people who used to wait in line to buy the latest "Harry Potter" installment.

Reading means a lot to Mr. Smith so he thus considers the fact that the vast majority of the children of today will not be reading at the level they should by the end of the third grade to be "a catastrophy in the making" and the "no secret formula" to address this problem is to insure children have quality teaching each day at their home, child care program, and church; to target the low income who are the most vulnerable; and to mobilize communities around this.

Problems that Mr. Smith feels must be addressed are chronic absenteeism (whatever the reason) and the ground lost during summer vacation. Above all, he firmly believes that "teaching a kid to read is a down payment on the future" and the "most powerful ally that we have is the kid himself" because "they become our partners" if properly motivated.

Among the people who sat at our table was Dr. V. Yvonne Conner, Interim Director of Enhancement Ministries, Inc. which works with children who have been suspended from school. We asked Dr. Conner how many of these children have immigrated to the United States from another country and are struggling to assimilate and she said that she, herself, has encountered very few. Also at our table was Mr. Kyle D. Miller, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Sisters of Charity Health System who asked us to thank Ms. Wong for her support over the years.

Sitting next to us was Mr. Anthony Hall who founded "The Rose of Education", a firm whose mission is to use the latest technology to help people learn. He travels all over the world and took our information in case an issue dealing with immigration should come up.

Another person taking our information was Ms. Lori Urogdy Eiler who was supervising some students from Shaw High School who were visiting the City Club for this program. Ms. Sharon McGraw, Director of Development and Communications at Horizon Science Academy remembered us from when we visited the academy earlier in the year and invited us back for a special 9/11 program this Thursday morning which we will try to attend.

We really liked it when in response to the question of how we can get a kid to enjoy reading, Mr. Smith suggested the Classic Comic Book series which restructured great works of literature like "Captains Courageous" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" into comic book form because we used to love to read this series ourselves when we were children and still have our collection safely packed away. They provided us with some good times.

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