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Birmingham Schools Creates Community Reading Groups to Boost Literacy for 3rd Graders

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Mark Sullivan, Ed.D, superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, encourages community groups and leaders to partner with school officials on literacy efforts. (Tommy Palladino, Birmingham City Schools)

By Sym Posey

The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City Schools leaders took another step Monday to get all third graders reading on grade level or proficiency by the end of the year with a luncheon for PTA, neighborhood officers and community leaders at the Lincoln Professional Development Center.

Pamela Williams, Ph. D, Interim Chief Academic and Accountability Officer for Birmingham City Schools said the gathering was designed to create a community reading partner group.

“Any organization, community group, or partner that supports BSC [was here] to talk about the importance of reading and the impending Literacy Act requirement … What’s going to come out of this session today is a community reading partner group where we meet regularly, monthly… to be more strategic to cover all our bases to get our third graders where they need to be. “

Passed in 2019, The Alabama Literacy Act was created to help improve reading in Alabama public schools to ensure students are reading on grade level by the end of third grade. Starting this year school year, the Literacy Act requires third graders to reach a certain reading score on a statewide test — the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program — to go to fourth grade.

Groups that participated in Monday’s luncheon included several after school and non-profits like Page Pals, Better Basic, STAIR, and the Birmingham Public Library as well as several PTA committees from several surrounding Birmingham City Schools.

“Our goal [in Birmingham City Schools] is to ensure that as many students as we can, if not all, third graders are reading on grade level,” said Williams, adding, “If students are not reading on grade level there is a strong possibility, they could fail the third grade without exemptions for good cause.”

Austin Sledge, Project Manager for City of Birmingham Department of Youth Services, part of community groups dedicated to helping third-grade students read. (Tommy Palladino, BCS)

Exceptions include students who are special needs, students who are first year in the country or don’t speak English, she said.

About 54 percent of third graders at Birmingham City Schools need additional support to read on grade level, according to school officials.

BCS Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.D., said it’s important to get community members “involved in literacy in Birmingham City Schools … Reading is a community responsibility. We are going to be prepared to ensure that our students are educated properly.”

Some of those steps include training teachers and ensuring that there is a 90-minute reading block for our students. “Many of our students, the only books that they have are the books they received from school,” he said. “We have implemented home libraries and extended our calendars to include intercession that allows students to get one-one tutoring an opportunity to make up work if they miss something.

He added, “we need to make sure our children are reading at least 15 minutes a day outside of school. We need our whole community involved in making sure our scholars are up to the challenges and standards set by the Alabama Literacy Act.” “Our faith community and neighborhood leaders are a vital part of this effort. They are already deeply engaged in their communities and have a platform to highlight how reading ensures our youth’s success in school and in life,” he said.