Mayor launches program to promote literacy among Phoenix elementary school students

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(Kim Koerth/DD)

Mayor Greg Stanton introduced Read On Phoenix at Burton Barr Central Library. The program supplements the new state law requiring students to be able to read before passing the third grade. (Kimberly Koerth/DD)

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton launched Read On Phoenix, a program to ensure that every child in Phoenix is reading proficiently by third grade, on Thursday at Burton Barr Central Library.

The program is a direct response to a new state law, Move on When Reading, that will require students to demonstrate proficiency in reading before moving past the third grade. The law will go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year.

Stanton said Arizona students are behind the national average for third-grade reading level, which correlates to high school graduation rates and college attendance. He said the initiative will engage parents, businesses and community members in improving reading proficiency through school readiness, summer learning opportunities, after-school literacy and volunteerism.

“(We) have accepted that challenge as a community challenge,” Stanton said. “We have to roll up our sleeves and say, ‘This is a community issue and we are all part of the solution.’”

Stanton said the role of the city is to be a partner to the public schools, supplementing the work done by teachers, parents, faculty and staff by providing resources and personnel to assist wherever needed.

“I said in my State of the City Address a couple months ago that we would rethink literacy in education … and that’s exactly what we’re doing with Read On Phoenix,” Stanton said. “It’s mission-critical. It’s the only way to build a strong future economy. There are no shortcuts.”

As a part of Read on Phoenix, the city will provide students with library cards to ensure they have access to books. A lack of access to books, along with poverty and language barriers, was cited by Dr. Karen Ortiz, vice president and program director of early childhood education for the Helios Education Foundation, as a factor that contributes to low literacy levels.

Ortiz said promoting literacy through programs such as Read on Phoenix helps students succeed in school, as well as in their future careers and lives. She said that by 2023, 100 percent of Arizona students will be reading at or above their grade level by the time they reach the third grade.

Phoenix City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela worked with Stanton on developing Read On Phoenix. He urged parents and community members to encourage children to read because of the impact literacy has on their future success.

“Education is all of our priorities. Our children are all of our priorities,” Valenzuela said.

Stanton issued a challenge to the citizens of Phoenix to read 100,000 books over the summer. This challenge was followed by the Valley of the Sun United Way Women’s Leadership Council million minutes volunteer reading challenge, which asks that teams of volunteers read to children across the Valley and log their hours online.

Arizona Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall represented both the Diamondbacks and the Valley of the Sun United Way at the program launch. Hall said the Diamondbacks have been a part of the summer reading program since 2000, investing more than $600,000 in libraries and giving away more than 85,000 complimentary tickets to students.

“What a great way to incentivize children to read, to give them tickets and be able to have them and their families come out as a reward to watch baseball,” Hall said.

In addition to Read On Phoenix, Stanton also discussed other programs the city and library have to promote literacy and support education.

The city’s newly launched Great Start Program will provide incoming kindergarteners in the Balsz School District with access to various educational and cultural centers across Phoenix.

The libraries will host summer reading programs for students in kindergarten through twelve grade, and their after-school programs are incorporating a larger focus on literacy.

Contact the reporter at kimberly.koerth@asu.edu