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Literacy at CIS of Durham: Defining READS and Looking Forward

This is first in a series of articles highlighting the experiences, and success of READS for Summer Learning in its last year at Communities In Schools of Durham and how we plan to continue our work for increasing literacy for our students.

Tiny hands on a glossy book’s cover, eyes quickly dart between lines, and small mouths slowly pronouncing words that seemed too long—kids everywhere have similar experiences reading their first books by themselves.

Reading books during the school year seems like a natural and excitable experience for kids, but what happens during the summer? Many kids stop reading in favor of summer leisure, and many do not have the resources to continue reading leisurely.

READS for Summer Learning is a federally funded research study with Harvard University that targets young students to encourage summer reading and increase reading comprehension. Communities In Schools of Durham has participated in READS for four years and is entering its last summer with the study. READS works in reducing a slide in reading comprehension that often begins at the end of the school year and disproportionately affects youth from among low-income families.

Learn to Read

“Having access to reading books helps prevent reading loss,” said Jamila Perry, CIS of Durham READS Specialist. Perry says through READS CIS is “teaching consciously to every level of reading.” READS goes beyond simply teaching kids how to read—the program works on reading comprehension, so students can truly understand the content of every book they pick up. The program fills that critical gap between learning to read and reading to learn, the gap that is responsible for so many youth not achieving in school.

In 2010 alone, READS worked with 1,400 students across 18 different Durham elementary schools and provided 14,000 books for students to keep.

Although READS is in its last year at CIS of Durham, the program has continuously evolved throughout the process. In the 2013-2014 school year, READS provided books to third graders across Durham, and this year, the study is working with the same group of students as they’ve moved on to the fourth grade to provide more long-term insight into impact.

CIS of Durham divides READS in Durham into two different adaptations, READS – Traditional and READS – Adapted. READS – Traditional follows six student-teacher lessons as well as providing the initial books covered in the first lessons. READS – Adapted slightly deviates from the traditional approach by allowing additional student-teacher lessons.

As summer approaches, the tables at CIS of Durham are lined with blue and red string backpacks that will hold handpicked books for each participating student to enjoy over break. This may be the last round of deliveries of books as a part of the READS program, but our work with literacy interventions has only just begun.

“How do I know that by the end of the day you know how to read?” asks Elizabeth Levene, Director of Program Development and Community Outreach at CIS of Durham. Levene explains through READS, CIS of Durham gained a wealth of knowledge about what really works to improve reading skills. “[READS] helped us realize that teachers are important and parent engagement is key,” Levene says.

One of the largest challenges for moving forward on improving literacy was synthesizing the CIS of Durham model of support with READS' single-focus programing.

CIS of Durham received funding from the Triangle Community Foundation (TCF), a nonprofit that works on improving the lives of all residents in the region, in order to explore methods of improving youth literacy. The study, funded by TCF, found that the best method to increase youth literacy for CIS of Durham is to invest in long-term professional development for CIS staff in evidence-based literacy interventions like the Augustine Literacy Project so they may provide the support needed to students.

CIS of Durham continues to improve youth literacy by increasing the level of support our staff can provide as well as increasing parent-teacher involvement throughout the school year. “We cannot address our goals without addressing literacy,” Levene says. Literate youth are youth set up for success—both in school and in life.

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