Photo courtesy The Center for Literacy and Learning

The Center for Literacy and Learning’s new program gets parents and children reading together

The outbreak of COVID-19 brought attention to a lot more than just infectious diseases and their transmission. When students were sent home en masse in March of 2020, parents were suddenly their kids’ primary educators—regardless of their knowledge of third-grade math or sixth-grade science. And while Zoom classes and newly digitized lessons helped somewhat, as The Center for Literacy & Learning’s vice president of program development DeJunne’ Clark Jackson notes, these new “COVID classrooms” brought to light the true importance of a parent’s role in their child’s education.

“Our Louisiana Reads! program was founded in 2020 following the revelation of what COVID classrooms looked like,” Jackson explains of the statewide, grant-funded initiative that focuses on literacy in young children. “It is our response to bridge the gap of in-class and at-home learning.”

Literacy was an issue for Louisiana’s children even prior to the pandemic, with just 26% of our state’s third graders reading 18 on their grade level, according to a 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress. “The reality is that reading doesn’t happen by osmosis,” says Jackson. “It’s a learned skill, and it’s a very important skill to learn.”

With teachers only occupying so much of a child’s daily time, Louisiana Reads! puts an emphasis on parents and all the learning that goes on at home. Starting with a pilot program in New Orleans and spreading throughout the state through partnerships with organizations and institutions like libraries, schools and local nonprofits, the program’s recipe for success is based on two main initiatives. First, they want to build each child’s personal library through book distribution. This not only reduces the barriers children have to reading material, but in passing out hardback editions of stories featuring Black and brown characters, the hope is that students are all the more engaged by seeing themselves and learning their value through the reading material.

“It’s important that these books be high-quality hardbacks because we want the kids to see them as something special,” Jackson notes, adding that an estimated 2,800 books have been given to Baton Rouge families so far. “Ownership is a big part of getting engaged, and we want the books we are filing their libraries with to be something they take pride in.”

Second, the program focuses on parents, aiming to give caregivers the tools to read these culturally relevant books with their children in an impactful way. Through workshops, physical resources passed out with the books, and additional online resources, the Louisiana Reads! team works to teach parents what to do and what to look for when they are reading with their children in order to encourage greater success in and out of the classroom.

“Parent education is so important because yes, you can get the book, but who will read it?” Jackson explains. “Parent engagement is what holds the most esteem and is what is missing for so many kids. We want to empower parents to take an active role in their child’s education.”

This participation, Jackson says, will have positive impacts that go far beyond reading comprehension. By reading and learning with a concerned caregiver by their side, children are not just fostering an understanding of the words on the page, they are developing a deeper love of reading and of learning as a whole.

“There is so much exploration with language,” explains Jackson, “and we want to build a love of learning together.”

As the Louisiana Reads! program spreads to even more communities throughout the state, Jackson and her team are determined to spread the word that it is in engaging in that exploration alongside their children that parents set their kids up for future success.

“When it comes to reading, it is an equal-opportunity struggle,” explains Jackson. “Literacy is at the forefront in our state, and we are committed to making a difference in these families’ lives by giving them the tools they need to be successful.”