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Birmingham Mounts Full Court Press to Get Third Graders Up to Reading Level

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Mayor Randall Woodfin, in collaboration with the city’s Department of Youth Services, is seeking 200 teachers and educators who are either retired or have flexible schedules to participate in an expansion of its Page Pals. (FILE)

By Barnett Wright | The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City officials are beginning a full court press to get all third graders reading on grade level or proficiency by the end of the year.

“This is it everybody,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin in an interview last week. “The test is less than 90 days away, and every third grader in the state of Alabama, including the 1,300-plus third graders in Birmingham City Schools will take this test.”

Passed in 2019, The Alabama 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.

“If this test was today, I would be extremely concerned because about 750 of them read below grade level,” Woodfin said last week. “… there’s only so much you can do in less than 90 days. I think what we have to do is level up our time that we are spending with our third graders.”

The mayor, in collaboration with the city’s Department of Youth Services, is seeking 200 teachers and educators who are either retired or have flexible schedules to participate in an expansion of its Page Pals, a program which started in March of 2022, where retired educators and/or educators with flexible schedules will provide one hour per day of in-school tutoring for reading over four weeks, from February 21 to March 22, 2024. Participants will receive a one-time stipend of $500 for their commitment to advancing literacy among Birmingham’s youth.

Qualified applicants are invited to apply beginning Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Interested individuals must be retired educators or educators with very flexible schedules, preferably with backgrounds in English or Language Arts. Application packets should include a detailed cover letter expressing interest, a resume with contact information, and copies of credentials to verify educator background. These materials should be addressed to Cedric Sparks, Sr., Chief of Staff for the City of Birmingham. Packets should be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.

Applications can also be emailed to pagepalsteacher@birminghamal.gov.

Sparks said the city is asking former educators because they know those are the ones who have the skills necessary to help a student’s reading improve prior to their standardized tests.

“Our goal is to accentuate the positive. It is not to be critical about what doesn’t happen, but we feel like we can move the needle with all three versions of this effort. So if we affect one, that is a win, but the goal is to affect 700. Anything in between is a win,” said Sparks.

The mayor said he is calling on “every volunteer, every parent, every teacher, every reading coach, every adult in the community, give your time. We’re talking what, maybe eight to nine weeks out of an entire year that we need to give all our energy, attention. and focus on this issue.

“We’re talking about the village and all other adults participating and making sure we can do everything we can in this immediate crisis right in front of us to make sure the majority of our third graders are put in the best position to pass that test and matriculate to the fourth grade. “

He added, “I can’t imagine a world where that many third graders have to repeat the third grade. Neither should you all.”

For more information about the Page Pals: SOS initiative and how to apply, visit www.birminghamal.gov/pagepals or call 205-320-0879.