Ask any educator and he or she will affirm that the summer slide, defined as the loss of knowledge that takes place over the summer break, is real. That loss of academic skill is particularly significant for New Orleans public school children, who are already on average well behind their peers.
According to the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, just 31 percent of New Orleans third graders read on grade level, and low-income students are 40 percent less likely to be reading on grade level by the end of the third grade. And third grade is a key threshold: educators often describe kindergarten through third grade as when children “learn to read,” while beyond third grade is when students “read to learn.”
Now, thanks to a collaboration between the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, United Way of Southeast Louisiana and David Fennelly, chairman of Turn Services and Associated Terminals, New Orleans low-income children going into kindergarten through the third grade will have access to a new literacy institute this summer.
The initiative, called the Kay Fennelly Summer Literacy Institute, has the goal of reaching at least 500 low-income students this summer with quality literacy programming. The institute will partner with summer program providers already in place to enhance literacy instruction through curriculum, staff training, materials or other resources, according to United Way of Southeast Louisiana. The institute will draw from a pool of more than 75 programs, many of which operate in partnership with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission. This summer, this institute will partner with a dozen or more of those with the goal of reaching 500 children.
“The ability to read does so much more than prepare children for school-based learning,” said Michael Williamson, president and CEO of United Way of Southeast Louisiana, “it prepares them for lifelong vocational and financial success. Creating greater access to high-quality summer literacy programming for early learners will build upon the foundation of reading necessary to create better, brighter futures for all children.”
Fennelly, who has long been involved in literacy efforts and community service through the United Way, gave $100,000 to launch the institute, which is named for his mother.
“My mother was an educator in Ireland and instilled in me the great importance of reading, learning and equality at an early age,” Fennelly said. “She taught children out of our home who came from many different backgrounds, including some who were differently abled, and recognized the importance of equal access to education for all. She and I are honored to present the institute to the children and families of Southeast Louisiana to help create a level playing field for the most vulnerable among us.”