Reading is an invaluable skill that many people take for granted. But the reality is more than 36 million adults in the United States cannot read, write or do basic math above a third-grade level. Nearly half of all adults at the lowest literacy levels are living in poverty and, according to literacysource.org, the children from these families are ten times more likely to have lower literacy skills than their peers from more highly educated households.
As a response to this literacy crisis, local and national experts have joined forces to present The March to Literacy Summit on March 13, a virtual conference based out of Portland, whose goal is to learn how to recognize good literacy instruction, celebrate stories of success and advocate for change.
Paula Byrd, executive director of Y.O.U.th (Youth Organized and United to Help) and BooksNotBarsOR and Lisa Lyon, co-founder and community outreach director of Decoding Dyslexia Oregon, are two of the sponsors of the event.
“One of the things we want to communicate at the conference is that many people are unaware that most teachers are not well prepared to teach reading,” said Lyon, who has a degree in elementary and special education. “In addition to that, we really want to give an overview of the Black literacy landscape, which is the intersectionality of teachers not always being prepared to teach and that intersection of race as well,” she said.
“Oftentimes, when a student is falling behind, a teacher might tell a family ‘your kid needs to try harder,’ so they kind of blame the kid or the family” Lyon continued. “But the reality is, 40% of learners will learn no matter what the teacher does, leaving 60% that need direct, explicit, systematic cumulative instruction; 10-20% of those students have a reading difficulty such as dyslexia.”
According to Lyon, 70% of BIPOC learners in Oregon are not meeting third-grade benchmarks.
“What they say,” said Byrd, “is if you are not meeting those benchmarks, if you are not reading and writing at the standard level by the sixth grade, you are less likely to go to high school, more likely to drop out, get into juvenile trouble and you will end up in the juvenile system or in prison.”
This is known as the school to prison pipeline, a disturbing national trend in which a disproportionate amount of Black and brown children are essentially funneled directly from the classroom into the criminal justice system. Many of these students have learning difficulties and come from homes with low literacy rates.
“So now, they’re labeled as the bad kid, and then that disciplinary record follows them from grade to grade,” Byrd said. “But no one is really addressing the root, and the root is that the child is having learning difficulties.”
“So, how do we address the root,” Byrd asked. “How do we take the trauma out of learning how to read?”
The March to Literacy Summit is one way for parents to gain the necessary tools they’ll need to advocate for their child. The summit is being held virtually this Saturday from 10 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. Registration is required and there is a $10 to $30 fee that is based on a sliding fee scale, but scholarships are available.
“We also have promo codes where people can just register for free,” Lyon said.
“One thing we do want to highlight is that we’re not turning anyone away from this summit,” Byrd added. “It is not just for Black and brown people it’s for everyone, and if there is a parent out there who does not have the financial means to attend, send us an email. We will make sure that those who want to be in attendance on the 13th can be there.”
If you or someone you know will benefit from attending the March to Literacy Summit, click here to register.
If you are in need of a scholarship or promo code, please click here.