Read to be Ready

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

Children participate in a 2016 summer reading program in Lauderdale County in West Tennessee as part of the 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.”

Fighting summer slide

Nine Memphis schools will have state-funded summer reading camps

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

For the first time, Memphis is getting a slice of a state grant to boost literacy rates through summer camps.

Nine Memphis schools in both Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District will host reading camps funded by the second annual Read to Be Ready Grant Program. Overall, $8.5 million is being disbursed among more than 200 schools, compared to a dozen schools last year.  

The Tennessee departments of Education and Human Services have earmarked $30 million for the summer programs over the next three years. It’s part of the state’s larger Read to be Ready initiative, which aims to get 75 percent of third-graders proficient in reading by 2025.

“Summer reading loss can have a significant impact on the academic progress made by our students during the school year,” said first lady and literacy advocate Chrissy Haslam. “These Read to Be Ready summer programs are an innovative and strategic approach to combating that summer slide and improving reading proficiency across the state.”

The camps are in addition to 20 Shelby County district-funded sites to fight against a learning phenomenon known as “summer slide.”

While all students can fall behind academically during the summer break, students from low-income families are affected disproportionately, often losing two to three months in reading achievement, while their more affluent peers tend to make slight gains.

Memphis schools receiving state funding for their camps are:

  • Aspire Coleman, Achievement School District
  • Aspire Hanley 1, Achievement School District
  • Aspire Hanley 2, Achievement School District
  • Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary, Achievement School District
  • Libertas School of Memphis, Achievement School District
  • Willow Oaks Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Granville T. Woods Academy of Innovation, Shelby County Schools
  • Rozelle Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Memphis Business Academy, Shelby County Schools

See the full list of 2017 summer grant recipients and program directors on the department’s website.

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