Fund for School District kicks off early literacy, classroom library campaign

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The city is fueling its mission to put kids on track to reading on grade level by 4th grade.

On Tuesday, Superintendent William Hite, Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, and 30 other city leaders convened at Clara Barton Elementary School to launch the $3.5 million Right Books Campaign that aims to place leveled libraries in classrooms and comprehensive literacy coaches in every public elementary school in Philadelphia.

“We have until 2017 to raise [the money], but we know with the generosity of Philadelphians that we will do that much sooner,” said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the president and CEO of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, which heads the campaign.

The Fund is an independent, not-for-profit organization that channels investments from the private sector to the initiatives of the Philadelphia public education system in early literacy, school safety, and high school redesign.

It seeks to match a $6 million investment from the William Penn Foundation and a $4.5 million donation from the Lenfest Foundation. So far, it has raised $10,000, the cost of two classroom libraries, which will be named in honor of Mayor-elect Kenney and Superintendent Hite.

“We solve a lot of problems that we see later on when we teach kids to read on grade level by 3rd grade,” said Hite. “We know how to teach reading and we are training our teachers, and the next part is making sure we get the right books in the right hands at the right grade level for our young people.”

If the campaign meets its goal, more than 48,000 K-3 students in the District will have access to classroom libraries as well as teachers trained to implement effective early literacy methods with support from reading coaches.

The Right Books Campaign recognizes that in any given K-3 classroom students may be reading on as many as 26 different levels. Though classroom libraries don’t replace school libraries and librarians, the “right” books in a classroom ensure that every student can have access to curriculum-aligned books that match their reading level and learning style.

“We are all on the same team here,” said Kenney. “We are going to continue to fight our battles at Harrisburg to try to get the money that we need … but in the end we have the ultimate responsibility to provide our kids with the resources they need to reach their potential.”

He added, “No zip code should matter relative to the opportunities in their lives.”

The city leaders made a start on this by reading to students in 30 classrooms at Clara Barton that morning. To participate in the read-athon, the leaders each raised $160 for the campaign.

“If we want our children to have a bright future, the single most important tool we have to use is reading at grade level,” said Frisby-Greenwood.