Want to boost student literacy? ‘Begin With Books’

Editorial – Post and Courier

By Nancy Muller, Director, Lowcountry Graduate Center

Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts Students

I am impressed by the common voice across neighborhoods throughout Charleston expressing urgency to improve the state’s alarming rates of reading deficiency in public schools. Post and Courier reporter Deanna Pan captured this in her March 8 article “Town hall addresses S. C. student literacy.”

While community collaboration, funding, and parental involvement are certainly among the necessary means of ameliorating disastrous statistics in learning outcomes in public education, the often overlooked variable is school readiness in children.

Independent, national data indicate that one in four (23 percent) of all children in our area are growing up in poverty. Over half (53 percent) of all public school students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch.

According to Dr. David Cole, president of MUSC, “We know healthy kids are better equipped to learn, and learning is the key to life success.” Low education and poverty go hand in glove. We have a mountain to climb.

One of the best pathways for tackling poverty is through education. Yet today, 76 percent of all of our public school children are not proficient in vocabulary upon entering kindergarten at age 5.

Begin With Books,” working with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, helps us climb that mountain with learning outcomes.

Last October, the Lowcountry Graduate Center hosted the launch of its fund-raising campaign to expand into North Charleston to supply books to 6,000 children so their parents, grandparents, and caring others might read aloud to help tiny brains develop and grasp the building blocks of language development for eventual reading skills and thus school readiness.

Using 13 relevant metrics such as standardized test scores and high school dropout rates, an independent panel of education experts recently ranked S.C.’s public schools at 47 out of 50, while our surrounding neighbors ranked 11 (Virginia), 24 (North Carolina), 26 (Florida), and 35 (Georgia).

We should be at least on par with Georgia and strive to overtake Virginia in rank.

We can do that, if we collectively care, take action together, and lift up our children to enable them for learning, growing and breaking out of poverty.

Why do we care at the Lowcountry Graduate Center?

We care because we are charged with building out the talent pool needed by area employers. We worry about the pipeline of qualified students for eventual graduate education. Quite simply, lack of school readiness for literacy and learning at age 5 translates into failure to read at grade level by grade 3 and a further falling behind by grade 8.

The trajectory is an unacceptably high dropout rate, with wider gaps by race/ethnicity, especially among those children growing up in lower economic status households.

Yet lack of readiness for the workforce and the foundation to become specialized knowledge workers, ultimately completing a bachelor’s degree and then graduate studies, are best illustrated by recent statistics released by Trident Technical College students from our area high schools, where: 40 percent of first term courses were failed, 9 in 10 needed math remediation to pass, 2 in 5 required English remediation, and 1 in 3 needed reading remediation.

To adequately address preschool “readiness” we must support K-12 teachers in literacy education such as The Citadel offers. We must encourage parental involvement and community collaboration.

But we also must support efforts, first and foremost, such as those orchestrated by “Begin With Books” throughout Charleston County.

Early-school readiness is essential to the building blocks of learning for attaining eventual goals in higher education, global competitiveness, career success, and eventually eliminating poverty.