The typical summer slide in children's reading skills is additionally impacted this summer by students having less access to free books the past four months. And even though most Fairfield County libraries have steadily reopened since being allowed to July 7, kids still need to get to the branches. While online access to library books is plentiful, some families lack the technology tools for their children to checkout the books online.
The challenge in Stamford is being addressed thanks to a partnership between a nonprofit called Cradle to Career, which runs under the umbrella of United Way, and Stamford Library. A literacy initiative for the city's youngest readers, ones in kindergarten to third grade, Cradle to Career is not just linking kids with books but providing them with reading coaches at summer camp programs in Stamford community centers. Four reading coaches have been hired for the initiative.
The effort strives to improve educational outcomes for all Stamford children.
“We have a focus on equity, providing equitable resources for all of our families," said Cradle to Career President Bridget Fox in an interview.
Part of the focus is on making the public aware of the inequities for educational resources among children from parts of Stamford and remedying that for children at the community centers, Fox said.
While it is was widely known before, the COVID-19 shutdown has revealed who among children in Stamford "need the resources the most, whether they are kids who don't speak English or don't have the technology access to books."
"The [COVID-19] crisis revealed this divide. We knew the inequities existed before, and now it's in plain sight for everyone to see," Fox added.
About 50 young children attending the Boys and Girls Club in Intempo and Family Centers summer camps have the additional support of virtual reading coaches. These camps are providing a mix of in-person and virtual programming, with the literacy coaches offering virtual support directly to students as well as complementary support offered to teachers and staff.
“We had been planning to launch the Stamford Summer Literacy Initiative this summer before the crisis hit,” Fox said. “The specifics of the program have been adjusted as a result of social distancing, but we’re moving ahead full steam. It’s more critical than ever, since many children may have lost ground in reading skills over the past several months as a result of distance learning.”
In addition, Stamford Cradle to Career is making a strong push to broaden public awareness of Ferguson Library’s summer reading program, called “Imagine Your Story.” The public awareness campaign will have a “grassroots” feel, with printed signage around the city and messages targeting neighborhoods, bus stops, parks, and outdoor gathering spaces. Messages will direct users to log on to Stamfordreads.com, which will take them straight to the library’s registration page.
The ultimate goal is to encourage families to read more with their children over the summer, as reading is critical to closing the achievement gap. Engagement with the summer reading program and literacy support at summer camp programs will contribute to this goal. Now more than ever, reading is a key part of the solution as we look ahead.