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Committee submits proposal to increase literacy

Date: 4/4/2012

April 4, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — The city of Holyoke is in the running to receive a national grant that would help implement a citywide campaign to increase readings levels of the city's students.

Mayor Alex Morse announced last week the city's application for the All America City Grade Level Reading Award.

Attorney Michael Moriarty, part of the group spearheading the applications, explained to Reminder Publications that 120 communities nation-wide and applied for the grant and Holyoke is one of the cities in Massachusetts vying for the award.

The city's action plan to address how it would increase the literacy levels of the city so that all third graders would be reading at grade level was recently submitted. The All-America City Awards group will be making its decision in July.

Moriarty said that Holyoke has "very troubling" reading scores — only 21 percent of its third graders read at grade level, the worst score in the state.

He added that Boston, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester are also applying for the award, but the reading levels in those communities range between 30 and 40 percent.

The goal of the reading campaign would be to have 85 percent of the city's third graders reading at grade level by 2014.

"That's a tight timeframe," Moriarty said.

According to "Double Jeopardy: How Poverty & Third-Grade Reading Skills Influence High School Graduation," commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, students who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers, according to a study over time of nearly 4,000 students nationally.

The study also found "that 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of the survey time in poverty."

Researchers also found that "even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn't finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third graders who were never poor."

Moriarty said the city already has in place an Early Childhood Learning Task Force and has several family literacy centers on some of the schools. If the city receives the grant it would be used to help establish literacy centers in all of the schools.

He said that other programs would address chronic truancy, summer reading loss and making sure children are ready to enter school.

The campaign will not just be aimed at helping children, Moriarty explained, but at the whole family.

"It's about educating parents," he said.

Parents could start their own efforts by taking two simple steps, Moriarty said. The first would be to read to children for 20 minutes a day, while the second is to engage them in conversation.

"We're building a new culture in Holyoke to reach and keep a high level of reading, " he said.

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