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Build a strong community of readers: 5 ways to get started in your school or district

Literacy opens doors. It is the entry point to every child’s brighter future and the key to every community’s future development. Literacy rates—largely stagnant in recent years for a myriad of reasons—impact students, families, schools, and entire communities.

What can you do to achieve greater literacy growth in your school or district?

Although parental involvement can improve a child’s success, parents are just one part of the larger community. When it comes to increasing literacy rates, there is power in partnerships. A community reading model provides support to engage students and their families in literacy-rich environments.

School and district leaders who form solid partnerships with community organizations, libraries, businesses, government entities, hospitals, and nonprofits can help ensure that all students achieve literacy growth.

Utilizing a collective impact framework builds on resources of community partners, sponsors, and reading champions to focus wider attention on literacy. Schools, districts, and partners collaborate to set goals, provide equity and access for all students, and share responsibility for literacy growth.

You can imagine the difference it would make to strive for consistent and substantial reading growth as a larger community. A community model saves time and resources, extending the effectiveness of reading practice by adding individuals and groups to help students and families access books and learn to use digital technology.

But how do you extend support for literacy beyond school walls, beyond students’ homes, and into the community?

Here are five steps to help you get started.

1. Establish a school or district literacy leadership team

Get your community model off to a great start by putting in place a literacy leadership team and defining the roles and responsibilities of individuals. This group might include:

  • Supportive school administrator (superintendent, assistant superintendent, building principal)

  • Key district or school leader to help drive strategy and implementation (curriculum director, library/media director, literacy director)

  • Dedicated innovation team with tech team members, champion teachers, librarians, and media specialists

  • Leader of the PTA/PTO (if applicable)

2. Form partnerships with local leaders and organizations

In a community model, partnerships support your literacy efforts, helping create literacy-rich environments for all children and families by:

  • Providing year-round support and opportunities for students and families to read within and beyond their classrooms and schools

  • Engaging families with young children from birth to school age, and children attending non-public schools

  • Contributing financial and fund-raising support, expertise, volunteer hours, in-kind contributions of equipment or space, etc.

  • Helping build excitement with outreach activities

Typically, local leaders and organizations want to help school leaders create opportunities to involve students and families in literacy. Often, they simply don’t know how to get involved. Invite them to the table, and then sit down and strive for everyone to agree on a shared goal for literacy growth.

School leaders often begin forming partnerships by approaching organizations that already have a mission to support children and teens. Examples include Rotary Clubs, Ys, the United Way, county/municipal library systems, Boys & Girls Clubs, and housing boards. Ongoing communication with partners will strengthen the relationships and foster growth in students, families, and the overall community effort.

3. Launch with specific community-wide goals

Establishing and sharing specific goals for your community of readers will give your initiative visibility, credibility, and continuity.

  • Providing effective early literacy experiences that begin at birth and engage families

  • Helping ensure all students in your district learn to read by grade 3

  • Reducing the adult illiteracy rate in your community by a certain percentage by a specific date

4. Provide opportunities to read both print and digital books

An effective community model often includes a personalized literacy initiative that enables young readers and families to read both print and digital texts outside the classroom and school. Your personalized literacy initiative might involve:

  • Collaborating with partners to provide equitable access to digital books and devices as well as print books

  • Providing wider access to both fiction and nonfiction texts

  • Enabling students to sharpen digital literacy skills through purposeful activities

  • Engaging families with information about how to cultivate a culture of reading at home

Districts with limited budget or bandwidth can offer digital libraries that students can access on smartphones and tablets. Providing an opportunity for students to read at home, on the bus, at community centers, or in any location they visit can provide the literary foundation that all students need to achieve growth.

5. Build internal capacities through learning opportunities and professional development

When recruiting partners for a collaborative effort, you’ll want to support and guide them to build local capacities, to launch and manage the most effective program and to meet goals. A successful program plan includes well-designed professional development for all stakeholders to help them understand and execute the vison.

  • For teachers, librarians, and media specialists to support and align best practices

  • For community partners and volunteers to utilize available resources effectively

  • For families to provide them research-based strategies to read with their children

  • For school and program administrators to access available data for program management and accountability

Discover what a successful community model looks like

Literacy is the key to the economic development and stability of every community. Visit our site dedicated to helping you build a community of readers. You’ll find a sample community model and examples of how a coalition of partners works together.

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