The Writing On The Road Ahead: Illiteracy continues to turn straight paths to success into halting detours for some of BGCMB's most stellar members.
You're a fourth grader sitting at your desk in English class as the teacher hands out the day’s assignment. The paper lands on your desk as his footsteps pass by. Your first glance at the ‘big words’ and ‘long sentences’ on the page, the ones your friends speak with ease when asked to read aloud, is just another painful second in the struggle you’ve had to endure at school and at home. The sense of isolation whenever intimidating moments like these occur is what makes you now ‘hate’ school when it used to be the one place you always ‘loved’ to be. Truancy instantly feels like a justifiable means of escape given the fear of being ridiculed by your friends and classmates.
The experience described above is all too common for many of our Club members. Without direct intervention, illiteracy threatens to derail their long term social, academic and financial success. It's something that Westport Club Manager Laure Julliard has seen more than once.
Striving For Excellence: BGCMB's Westport staff pushes for the greatness they all see in each member who walks through the Blue Doors of our Club in this South Baltimore community overlooking Charm City.
“Most kids know when another child has a tough time reading, just like adults,” Laure says before explaining what she observes during her day with members. “We can tell when a member is having difficulties when they write. Misspellings of words kids at their grade level should know are more frequent, we occasionally see backwards numbers being written by members sometimes, too.” Laure acknowledges that loved ones may feel frustrated. “Some parents are just overwhelmed. It’s very complicated to have a child that’s seven, eight, nine or ten years-old who doesn’t know how to read.”
Laure’s concern is supported by findings in the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), backed by the Maryland State Department of Education. Reading scores of fourth graders in Maryland public schools saw an eight-point decline over the past two years going from 220 to 212. The national average is 216. Simply put, it ‘means that 69 percent of Maryland students performed at or below the basic level. Eighth graders in Maryland are reading at the national average of 259, but this is still a decrease from its mark of 264 in 2019. This translates into meaning that ‘67 percent of Maryland students performed at or below the basic level’.
It would be negligent to overlook the drastic societal and educational shifts lingering from the pandemic or the age-old disparities and glaring inequalities affecting many of the communities we serve when presenting this topic. Emotional wellness also contributes a piece to this rangy conversation. The capacity of each Club’s staff determines the level of educational help they can offer to an often-large body of students with some needing more attention than most due to the areas of improvement hindering their ascendency. Westport for example serves over 70 members each afternoon creating a member-to-staff ratio of 14:1. Helping to develop a student’s reading skills is an act for the good of the community as ‘85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate’ according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). The connection is clear and early intervention—not social promotion—is the answer.
Making Waves in Reading Levels On The Eastern Shore: Club staff and members show how they're fully committed to improving reading together one word at a time.
This matter of literacy is not only germane to Baltimore’s urban skyline, but it is also a pressing issue for young students on the rural landscapes of the Eastern Shore. In Cambridge, the community has banded together with The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, an organization powered by the goal for elementary school students to achieve grade level literacy before the fourth grade. This national campaign helping young minds accelerate their comprehension and penchant for reading is effectively assisting students to gain a hold of a skill that seemed elusive for most of their young lives. Literacy connects writer to reader—person to person—and BGCMB’s beneficial partnership with Moving Dorchester Forward represents our commitment to making these literary connections happen. Gabe Butler, Cambridge Club Manager, is already seeing the potential of this very new component being added through this partnership that’s showing its effectiveness during the twenty minutes devoted to reading as a part of Power Hour.
“Moving Dorchester Forward is currently helping our members to be able to proficiently read before they reach the third grade,” Gabe says about the initiative bringing the best reading practices out in his Club’s members attaining these skills at our Club on Leonards Lane. “IXL is used to help kids narrow that learning gap by strengthening their skills in phonics and other areas. When you connect these resources with the positive energy from the other Club members around them, you can see a noticeable increase in their want to read even if they’re still working on the basics of language arts. The willingness to try, that wasn’t there before for some, is beginning to show in those members learning how to read.”
A note of optimism can also be heard in Laure’s voice when it comes to addressing how to improve literacy for her members back in Baltimore.
“Having volunteers would be great,” Laure says grinningly as she starts to express how they could be impactful to The Movement. “Then you could get the one-on-one—maybe a one-on-two—kind of mentorship where someone like a college intern, former educator or dedicated resident with the right skills could get some of our members up to their grade level. Ideally, we need people who can help come up with reading solutions for the specific child they’ll be paired with because every child is different. That’s true even for the children who are having a tough time reading. Not all of them are the same and have individual reasons why they’re experiencing difficulties in reading. Being able to have a roster of volunteers would allow us to spend more time helping our members with homework knowing that there are other adults here with us.”
More Space To Learn: The spacious BGCMB room on Westport Academy's third floor shows how we're teaming up to combat illiteracy.
Westport Academy, the elementary/middle school right up the street and within direct eyesight of our Club, is the home of BGCMB’s Reading Room. Located on the third floor, this spacious, well-lit and state-of-the-art room with tables and chairs is perfect for mentors to sit with members in need of direct, over-an-open-book guidance that helps to send positive ripple effects through a youth’s life. Being able to have a caring mentor sit down and read with a Club member is counterculture to the on-screen lifestyle most of them know after spending over a year learning virtually. The only thing that’s missing from this setting is you—the proactive volunteer.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore are currently looking for people like yourself for the Winter/Spring 2023 volunteering queue who fully understand that each minute dedicated to the only next generation we have is an investment in our collective tomorrow. BGCMB’s in-Club efforts are strengthened by your actions that ensure that no student feels the marginalizing discomfort of not being able to read along with their peers, loved ones and most importantly for themselves.
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