Well, this education dean just discovered a harsh reality that he should have known and done something about quite a while ago. And now that I DO know, I really AM going to do something about it –starting right here and now with this post.
Here’s the story. Recently I was asked if I’d be willing to be Marquette’s spokesperson for the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) program. Keep in mind here that RIF is the largest children’s literacy non-profit in the United States. And also keep in mind that its main thrust is providing access and ownership of free, high quality, age-appropriate books to children living in poverty.
My first thoughts were, ”Why would Reading Is Fundamental need a Marquette spokesperson? Why would I agree to something like that? How could I even manage that extra work?”
You see, my summer has been ridiculously busy, and the thought of taking on another professional commitment seemed crazy. Besides, the RIF program had been around for almost half a century and stood on the firmest of footing. Why would it need me, or anyone else for that matter, shouting its praises at all, let alone now?
And that’s when I learned the bitter truth.
The federal funding that the program had earned and enjoyed through its important work for the better part of 45 years had been cut. And, as if the news of the cut wasn’t bad enough, I found out that it had happened two congressional cycles ago in 2011. In other words, shame on me as an education dean, and even more so as a literacy professional, for not knowing until now. Color me mortified.
If you’re wondering why the news stunned and disheartened me, it comes down to one thing — the enormous positive impact that Reading Is Fundamental has exerted on the literacy development of America’s neediest children for such a long time. With a 75% cut in its funding, RIF could not hope to serve these children and their families even remotely as well as it has in the past — if at all.
The smiling book in the former RIF logo would certainly have frowned instead over that nasty news. In fact, the original play on words that “Reading Is FUNdamental,” now threatened to become something more akin to “Reading Is “DeFUNct.”
To grasp the magnitude of what gets subtracted, we need only consider what Reading Is Fundamental has added. Since its inception in 1966, RIF has provided 400 million books to more than 35 million children. In the year leading up to the cut alone, RIF provided more than 15 million books to children nationwide to keep as their own. More locally, RIF served over 61,000 Wisconsin children in 2010 at 255 sites, donating just under 250,000 books. In Milwaukee last year, RIF still managed to distribute more than 100,000 books to almost 40,000 children.
Some Sobering Stats
Now consider the following:
- Poverty predicts children’s failure to achieve in school better than any single factor, and about half of children from low-income communities start first grade up to two years behind their peers
- Some 61% of low-income families in the U.S. have no books in their homes
- In low-income neighborhoods, there is only one book per every 300 children. (Yes, you read that correctly)
- There are no age-appropriate books for the children in 80% of the preschools and after-school programs serving low-income populations
- Almost half of our children ages 3-5 neither read nor are read to on a daily basis.
To offset these menacing metrics, RIF prepares and motivates children, aged birth to 8 years, to read by delivering free books and literacy resources to those children and families who need them most. All RIF programs combine reading motivation, family and community involvement, and the excitement of choosing free books to keep. Driving these efforts are studies that show : (1) increasing access to print material is the most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children, and (2) children whose parents read to them become better readers and perform notably better in school.
In contrast to the bullets above, some satisying statistics show that RIF’s Books for Ownership program provides 15 million new, free books to 4 million children across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U. S. territories.
How We Can Help
As for me, I’m now committed to spreading the word about the dire needs of Reading Is Fundamental in trying to maintain its level of services. Thankfully, businesses have been stepping up to help offset the huge RIF funding gap the past two years. For instance, Nestlés is contributing on a national level, and in our region so is our local partner, Buddig Lunchmeats, often through matching gifts programs.
Buddig’s “Be A Reader” campaign prevails upon compassionate friends to join the cause by contributing through an online Virtual Book Drive this summer. Click here to go to that site to learn more, or you can donate directly by clicking here.
In addition, for all visitors to the Reading Is Fundamental Facebook page who “like” RIF, Buddig will make a $2.50 donation matching up to $5000 to support local RIF literacy programs for underserved children. In total, Marquette’s local partner, Buddig, will provide a minimum of $100,000 to the Reading Is Fundamental organization through May 30, 2013, to help children across the nation discover the joy of reading. And so you know, every $10 donated allows RIF to purchase about 4 books for children living in poverty.
In these modest, but nonetheless important way, we can do our part to provide an early literacy intervention effort that could prove to be vital in tackling the growing literacy gap for children living in poverty.
Put a smile on the face of the old RIF logo. Put the FUN back in FUNdamental. Most importantly, put the smiles back on the children’s faces as they accept books of their very own. Please consider giving those children the reading materials and early literacy services they need to beat the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy.
You know. there are just some things that we all need to know and do.