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Santa Fe’s Ready to Read: Until Everyone Can Read

Santa Fe’s Ready to Read: Until Everyone Can Read
By Amy Miller and Perli Cunanan

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”   
-Frederick Douglass

When you are a mom who loves to read, you assume your child will love it too.  You can’t wait to share your favorite books with him, and you look forward to the day you’ll come home to find your kiddo curled up on the couch with a book transporting him to other times and places.  

Maybe you first notice that your son isn’t learning his letter sounds the way you expected him to.  Or that he’s having real difficulty with handwriting. Or maybe he does everything he can to avoid reading tasks. Or he’s working as hard as he can but he still can’t sound out the words on the page.  You tell yourself he’ll get it eventually, that he’s a late bloomer. But you start to worry.

As mothers of dyslexic children, we’ve lived this story. We’ve watched our children struggle to read despite being exposed to books in our homes, despite good, kind teachers who tried their best, despite nightly practice.  For our kids, the process of learning to read has not been easy, and it has required the support of specialized curriculum and specially trained teachers. But not everybody who struggles to learn to read is dyslexic. In fact, most children who are behind in reading do not have a learning difference.  Regardless of the reasons, too many children in Santa Fe are struggling to learn to read. As mothers and school directors, we feel compelled to change that.

28% of third graders in Santa Fe are reading at proficient levels.  The national average is 68%. All the statistics demonstrate that most children who are not reading well by third grade never catch up.  They are more likely to drop out of school and end up incarcerated. They are more likely to struggle with self-esteem and believe that they are not intelligent.  The numbers can be daunting, and the problems are certainly complex, but we have to do better. Everyone has the right to learn to read.

We co-founded the Reading Group to bring people together to analyze the problem of illiteracy in our community and to come up with a plan to do something about it.  The Reading Group is part of Opportunity Santa Fe Birth to Career, a collective impact initiative supported by the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the City of Santa Fe, and Santa Fe County aimed at addressing key issues facing youth in Santa Fe. Reading Group members include Santa Fe Public Schools, Santa Fe Public Libraries, May Center for Learning, Santa Fe School for Arts and Sciences, Reading Quest, Santa Fe Literacy Volunteers, Book Kids, Reel Fathers and others committed to working collaboratively to understand and address the epidemic of low child literacy rates in the Santa Fe community.

In an effort to help more kids learn to read, we’ve spent our first year researching best practices and identifying key investments to turn the curve.  We’re now working on implementing strategies that will address these key investments. With the generous support of the City of Santa Fe’s Youth and Children Commission, we will begin a two-year pilot at Sweeney Elementary this fall, led by collaborating non-profits Reading Quest and May Center for Learning.  The pilot will include four hours of afterschool reading instruction each week for our cohort of second and third graders and a Reading is Magic summer camp. The pilot will also include collaboration between Reading Quest and May Center for Learning and Sweeney teachers to ensure consistent, best practices are in place for the children in the pilot across educational settings.  

In addition to partnering with the public schools, we’re also committed to making books more accessible to families.  We’re working with the Food Depot’s Lunchbox Express program this summer to provide books and literacy activities in neighborhoods where the Food Depot feeds children.   We’re holding free book swaps and giveaways to make sure every child has books available in their homes. Our next book swap is Sunday, August 5 at Santa Fe Place Mall.

It can be overwhelming to attempt to address all of the factors that contribute to our current illiteracy epidemic.  But the act of reading with someone is intimate and personal and the most rewarding. It’s one child and one adult snuggled on the floor together.  It’s one child and one tutor sharing a story and a smile. It’s one teacher and one student sharing the moment when the words come to life. Improving literacy rates in Santa Fe demands that all of us, educators and parents, public and private sectors, come together and play our part.  As Rayna Dineen, Reading Quest founder, says, “We are going to need an army of tutors to address this issue. It’s the personal connection between tutor and student that makes the difference for these children.”

Nobody said it will be easy.  But as moms, we know that the most important things hardly ever are.  This is life-saving work. And we are up for the challenge.

Amy Miller is Founder and Executive Director of May Center for Learning
Perli Cunanan is Executive Director of Santa Fe School for Arts & Sciences

Rebecca Anderson