The Literacy Lab, a nonprofit that tutors kids in reading, is coming to Hollywood Elementary
by James Cirrone and Kim Seif
Hollywood Elementary School will be welcoming reading tutors for the 2021-2022 school year from the Literacy Lab, a nonprofit organization dedicated to boosting literacy in young students, particularly K-3 students.
City councilmembers were generally enthusiastic about the Literacy Lab pilot program, especially Councilmember Maria Mackie (District 4) who spearheaded the proposal. Councilmembers have worked on it since March, and Mackie said the proposal will account for no more than $40,000 out of College Park’s FY22 budget in a July 20 regular meeting.
“We saw a problem. We found a solution in the Literacy Lab and we worked on implementing that solution in hopes that this small step could be the first step to helping many students throughout College Park and PG County,” Mackie said.
Initially, Prince George’s County Public Schools vetoed the Literacy Lab pilot program, but Councilmember Kate Kennedy (District 1) and others talked extensively to Prince George’s County leadership to get the program back.
“Now everyone’s on board, and we’re moving forward,” Kennedy said.
Literacy Lab Regional Director Jax Chaudhry explained that as part of the program, trained tutors are embedded full-time at the school for an entire year and work with a caseload of 15-18 students at a time.
“Our mission at the Literacy Lab is to provide children with individualized reading instruction to close the literacy gap,” Chaudhry said in a July 13 city council virtual work session.
Chaudhry is right to point out a literacy gap. According to a 2016 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey, many American adults are struggling with literacy.
In Maryland, Prince George’s County has the third highest percentage of adults—just under 30%—who are at or below what the NCES calls Level 1 Literacy. According to the NCES survey’s parameters, adults on the high end of Level 1 Literacy can read short texts, but struggle to draw inferences from those texts. Some adults on the low-end can only understand very basic vocabulary, and some are functionally illiterate.
Here’s how Prince George’s County stacks up in literacy compared with other counties:
But studying literacy rates in adults simply sheds light on a problem. It doesn’t get to the root cause, which is a failure to address the issue in the early stages of education. In her July 13 presentation, Chaudhry cited a 2010 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that stated, “three quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school.”
That’s because, as the authors of the report explain, third grade students are still learning how to read and comprehend words. But by fourth grade, students are using their reading abilities to actually gain more information about subjects such as math, science and history. It’s “learning to read” as opposed to “reading to learn.”
To gauge how fourth graders are doing, we can look to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), better known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” It’s the only nationwide test that measures students’ performance in various academic subjects, and in 2019, Maryland’s fourth graders scored five points lower in reading than they did two years earlier.
Mackie called these results "tragic," adding that literacy at a young age is a benchmark to future success in school.
“For me, it is all about the well-being of the students,” Mackie said.