Stopping summer slide

Twelve summer reading programs share Tennessee’s inaugural literacy grant

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

As part of a larger effort to lift lagging literacy rates, the Tennessee Department of Education has named the first recipients of a $1 million, three-year philanthropic grant to provide summer reading programs across the state.

Chosen from among more than 200 proposals for 2016, a dozen recipients will share the grant provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation in conjunction with Tennessee’s Read to be Ready campaign. The state campaign, which kicked off earlier this year, focuses on reading development in early elementary grades and aims to get 75 percent of the state’s third-graders proficient by 2025.

“With less than half of the state’s third-graders currently reading on grade level, we must approach reading in new and innovative ways,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in the announcement last week. “Read to be Ready summer grants will support individual communities as they tailor their approach to reading to meet the needs of the families they serve.”

While all students can fall behind academically during the summer break from school, students from low-income families are affected disproportionately. In a phenomenon known as summer slide, they lose two to three months in reading achievement over the summer, while their more affluent peers tend to make slight gains.

Dollar General's Denine Torr (left) presents a gift for the state's literacy work to first lady Chrissy Haslam, Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.
PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Dollar General’s Denine Torr (left) presents a gift for the state’s summer literacy work to first lady Chrissy Haslam, Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

This summer’s literacy-based camps will seek to address that widening gap in reading achievement.

Lipscomb University education professor Jeanne Fain is among the first grant recipients and will use the $30,000 award to provide a summer camp for 40 low-income children in Nashville. The four-week camp will serve struggling readers at J.E. Moss Elementary, a school where nearly 80 percent of students failed the state’s reading test last year. Many are part of Tennessee’s growing English language learner population.

When it comes to children who are learning English while they also learn to read, Fain considers the double challenge an asset, not a detriment, to building literacy skills.

“I don’t like the term language barrier. They know another language!” said Fain, who heads Lipscomb’s education program for teaching English language learners. “I want to value what kids know and they know so much. They just need to build on what they know.”

In addition to Fain, the winners are:

  • Northwest Region, Humboldt City Schools, Kristin Hardin
  • Southwest Region, Lauderdale County, Jennifer Jordan
  • Southwest Region, Jackson-Madison School System, Kristen Peachey
  • Mid Cumberland Region, Robertson County, Jennifer Cox
  • South Central Region, Giles County, Tina Smith
  • Upper Cumberland Region, Cannon County, MaryBeth Young & Melisha Simmons
  • Southeast Region, Polk County, Amy McAbee
  • Southeast Region, McMinn County, Penny Davis
  • East Region, Lenoir City Schools, Wendy Jones
  • East Region, Oak Ridge City Schools, Amelia Bell & Gwen Harrel
  • First Tennessee Region, Hawkins County, Carrie Smith & Jennifer Cassell

It takes a village

Nashville’s third-graders trail the state in reading proficiency. Here’s the city’s plan to change that.

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Students at Nashville's J.E. Moss Elementary School check out reading options on a bookmobile sponsored by Parnassus Books, a local bookstore. A new citywide initiative aims to bring in more community partners to support the district's literacy efforts.

As Tennessee grapples with its reading problem, Nashville has kicked off its own literacy effort aimed at accelerating the reading skills of the city’s youngest students.

The Nashville Literacy Collaborative recently launched as a six-month initiative organized by the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the Nashville Public Library in coordination with Mayor Megan Barry’s office and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

Only 34 percent of the Nashville district’s third-graders read at grade level, compared to 43 percent statewide. Third grade is viewed as a critical reading milestone from which children can read to learn in later years.

“Reading at grade level is a major indicator for a child’s academic success, and a child’s academic success is a strong indicator for the future of Nashville,” Barry said in a statement. “The Nashville Literacy Collaborative will provide critical insights that will help us better understand and support the city’s early literacy needs.”

While Tennessee’s year-old Read to be Ready initiative focuses primarily on supporting teachers and changing the way reading is taught, Nashville is seeking to involve community members to reinforce the work of its school system.

“As a school district, we have to focus on improving first-time instruction as well as interventions when students fall behind,” Superintendent Shawn Joseph said. “But our efforts will be far more effective with a community-wide strategy to support our work.”

Lipscomb University will lead research for the campaign, mapping existing community efforts and identifying gaps in services. Organizers hope to have a clear plan for how the city can support students’ reading by this summer.

A 20-person community group began meeting in February. The collaborative will also seek input from literacy groups, faith and volunteer partners, parents, students and educators.

Members of the working group are:

  •         Angie Adams, PENCIL
  •         Elyse Adler, Nashville Public Library
  •         Harry Allen, Pinnacle Financial Partners and Chamber Education Report Card
  •         Paige Atchley, Tennessee Department of Education and Read to be Ready
  •         Dr. Adriana Bialostozky, Vanderbilt Hospital
  •         Carolyn Cobbs, Cumberland Elementary School
  •         Monique Felder, MNPS
  •         Rae Finnie, Glengarry Elementary School
  •         Tari Hughes, Center for Nonprofit Management
  •         Shannon Hunt, Nashville Public Education Foundation
  •         Melissa Jaggers, Alignment Nashville
  •         Erica Mitchell, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville
  •         Laura Moore, Mayor’s Office
  •         Kent Oliver, Nashville Public Library
  •         Tara Scarlett, Scarlett Foundation
  •          Renata Soto, Conexión Américas
  •         Melissa Spradlin, Book’em
  •         Amanda Tate, Nashville Public Library Foundation
  •         Denine Torr, Dollar General Literacy Foundation
  •         Whitney Weeks, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce

Read to be Ready

$30 million grant will grow Tennessee’s summer reading program tenfold

PHOTO: TDOE
Children participate in a 2016 summer reading program in Lauderdale County in West Tennessee as part of a new grant-based literacy program overseen by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Last year, some 600 children statewide got to take advantage of summer reading programs under a new Tennessee literacy initiative. This summer, that number will soar to 10,000 children, thanks to a major state investment in the program.

The State Department of Human Services announced Tuesday its $30 million investment in Tennessee’s Read to Be Ready Summer Grant program.

The State Department of Education launched Read to be Ready a year ago to give its youngest students a foundation in reading — and boost the state’s lagging literacy rates. Only a third of its fourth-graders earned a proficient score on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card.

As part of Read to be Ready, the state awarded grants to local school districts and universities to operate summer literacy programs in their communities. Bolstered by a $1 million, three-year grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, it provided up to 20 grants to applicants across the state. The DHS investment should increase the number of programs to as many as 350 this year, officials say.

“We know the ability to read translates to academic success while equalizing opportunities for all students,” McQueen said. “The investment from DHS to the Read to be Ready work is a stellar example of state agencies working collectively to support a strong vision.”

Outgoing DHS Commissioner Raquel Hatter said the reading investment aligns with her department’s efforts to improve the wellbeing of Tennessee families. “Read to be Ready is an absolute game changer,” she said.

First lady Crissy Haslam, who has made early literacy her primary cause, praised the DHS for investing in summer reading, which aims to counter the summer slide that occurs when students fall behind during the school break.

“Literacy is essential to success in life, and it is not acceptable to have less than half of Tennessee students reading proficiently,” Haslam said. “Bill and I are thrilled for TDHS’s tremendous investment in the Read to be Ready summer program and the potential it has to impact thousands of students and move Tennessee closer towards the statewide reading goal.”