Read by 4th is a citywide coalition of parents and partners protecting every child’s right to read. As the Philadelphia chapter of the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Read by 4th is a collective impact initiative managed by the Free Library of Philadelphia
Through cross-sector collaboration with 134 (and counting) partner organizations, thought leaders, and the larger community, this citywide initiative holistically addresses Philadelphia’s literacy crisis. We are moving the needle toward the ultimate shared vision: every child in Philadelphia reading at or above grade-level by the time they enter 4th grade.
Approximately two-thirds of Philadelphia students cannot read at grade level by 4th grade. This statistic is just one symptom of a much larger problem, one that is deeply rooted in a history of racial and economic inequality. Read by 4th is facilitating systems-level change so that we, as a city, can begin to make progress towards reversing the literacy crisis’s impact on our children.
Furthermore, this statistic speaks to the struggles our children face when they make the crucial shift in fourth grade from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. Children that fall behind from fourth grade onward are 87 percent more likely to drop out of high school; facing an increased likelihood of future unemployment, potential for mental health struggles, and a greater chance of incarceration.
Fortunately, research has shown that all children are capable of making great strides in their reading ability as long as they have support from adults inside and outside the classroom.
Read by 4th is raising community awareness and implementing strategies surrounding key components for achieving grade-level reading. The campaign has made significant changes citywide that address Family Engagement, School Readiness, Daily Attendance, Quality Classroom Instruction, and Out-of-School Learning Experiences at scale. The work is guided by Six Bold Ideas that have been embedded citywide to create a literacy-rich culture at every level of the community. The campaign’s Six Bold Ideas are:
1. Adults embrace life’s teachable moments in a city full of learning landscapes.
2. Families make perfect school attendance a monthly goal because every day counts, start to finish.
3. All teachers are prepared and resourced to teach reading.
4. Children are connected to reading during the summer and out-of-school time and have access to free, quality reading support.
5. Children have a personal home library.
6. A Reading Captain on every block connects families to early education resources.
Each idea is supported by expert research and enacted in systems, neighborhoods, and families through the work of the campaign’s partner network. On a systems level, change has happened in Philadelphia’s teacher-training programs which have adopted evidence-based training for incoming elementary school teachers. Quality pre-K programs have been implemented citywide. Mayor Kenney and Superintendent Hite have both made early literacy a priority. The school district has partnered with the Department of Human Services to support children and families who struggle with consistent attendance.
Embedding a literacy-rich culture means creating intentional learning opportunities in unconventional settings. In neighborhoods, the “Talk It Up” initiative provides the impetus for caregivers to engage in brain-building literacy behavior with their children during everyday activities. Small laminated signs, strategically placed in grocery stores throughout the city, prompt shoppers to play a quick learning game with their children. Book Nooks—cozy reading corners with comfortable chairs and shelves stocked with books —have been installed in laundromats, barbershops, recreation centers, and other places where children frequently spend out-of-school time.
Inspired by the Block Captain model, Reading Captains are community members—often parents—who provide support and resources for their neighbors. They connect families to the information they need in order to help their children succeed, whether it be assistance in navigating the system to advocate for Individualized Education Plans, providing books for home libraries, or directing them to out-of-School-time programs that incorporate literacy development.
The Ready4K text messaging initiative is designed to support parents with creative tips that engage their children in brain-building activities. The more parents take advantage of these and other free resources made available through the campaign network, the more advantageous it will be for our children when they start school.
There is a plethora of information available through the Read by 4th network – Active Reading trainings, games that build foundational skills, developmental resources, and creative learning opportunities. The city needs to be saturated with Reading Captains on every block. The city’s billboards and buses need to be emblazoned with messages about all the ways our children can become competent readers.
We are exploring paths to mobilize and inspire the community. We will create a culture that not only supports early learning in young children, but creates a sense of urgency, with the understanding that illiteracy is a crisis that undermines a basic human right. Reading is not a privilege. It is a right. Every child has the right to read and, together, we must protect this right.
Read By 4th