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Promoting childhood literacy requires collaboration, panelists agree

  • collaborating for childhood literacy photo
    Ellen Schoder

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Childhood literacy has been gaining attention in Philadelphia, with organizations across the city working together to help boost literacy rates. On Thursday, three panelists spoke at the Philadelphia Foundation’s Collaborating for Childhood Literacy event to discuss the work they have been doing on literacy, how they are connecting with other organizations to effectively make use of resources, and what people can do to contribute to literacy-based projects.

The audience also got a chance to take part during a question-and-answer period.

The panel, moderated by Libby O’Donnell and Philip Fitzgerald from the Philadelphia Foundation, included: Mike Gross, executive director of Springboard Collaborative, an organization that works with students and their families over the summer to encourage reading; Carolyn Ashburn, the chair of Team First Book Philadelphia, which connects with other community-based programs to get books into students’ hands; and Ricardo Calderón, director of the Youth Commission in the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement, which runs programs such as “play streets” that bring books and meals to students over the summer.   

“I think our experience is that when you put out good information and share experiences, opportunities and need meet capacity to do something, and ideas and programs and collaborations come out,” said Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation.

As an example of collaborative work, the panelists highlighted how they each have a hand in the city’s  “play streets” initiative, providing books and resources to the program.  

“I think in most large cities, you see this idea of folks working in silos, everyone kind of taking on their own section of the city and being very greedy with the outreach that they’re doing,” Calderón said.

Philadelphia is working hard to avoid this, he said. “At least in my experience, I’ve experienced such beauty in the collaboration work that’s happening here.”  

Jenny Bogoni, executive director of READ! by 4th, an initiative that has developed partnerships across Philadelphia to help students reach grade level in reading by the end of 3rd grade, attended yesterday’s event.

“We have to have every sector of our community understanding what goes into getting kids on grade level in the same way so that we can row our boats in the same direction,” Bogoni said.

The panelists also offered some ideas about how organizations can work with students and families to make the greatest impact.

Gross of Springboard said that students spend most of their time outside of school, making it important to have programs that reach students at home, too. He said that Springboard Collaborative does this by providing resources to families, such as teaching parents how they can help their children with reading.

“This is so multilayered,” Gross said.

“The schools need to have relationships with the parents, the teachers need to have relationships with the parents, and then other programs can piggyback on those and engage to be able to bring parents in and help them support their children.”

Calderón also stressed that community-based programs cultivate trust with the people they serve.

“The more we continue to go into the neighborhoods, the more we meet people where they’re at, the more they’re going to start to trust this process and what we’re trying to do, which is increase literacy rates,” he said.

Calderón said that ideas generated at the event were important, but that there are ways to expand on them.

“I think what really takes it to the next level is including the community in that conversation,” he said.  

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