Originally published as an Opinion article in the Star Phoenix August 20, 2020
Our schools face many challenges.
Even before COVID-19, literacy rates in our province were in the bottom three provinces in Canada. According to the Saskatoon public school board’s annual report for 2017-18, “Every year, 28 per cent of all students (500 students) in Saskatoon Public Schools have not achieved at or above grade level literacy in reading by Grade 3.”
That’s almost a third of our population, and in community schools the percentage is far higher.
Reading opens new horizons for children. Every story they can access shows possibilities and options for different futures. Beyond that, even basic reading capacity is essential.
READ Saskatoon shares that “One in three adults in Saskatchewan struggle with literacy and low literacy is linked to poor health, poverty, high unemployment and crime rates.” Yet in our schools we see year after year that we are failing students.
We can all agree that a third of our kids not reading at grade level is far, far too many. Opening through the pandemic puts teachers and administrative staff under huge pressure. As they struggle to manage health and safety protocols, along with the fact that children in Saskatchewan have been out of school for nearly six months, the added pressure of such a high percentage of children struggling with reading adds to classroom stress.
Our teachers work hard every day to share their skills and knowledge, but we can and must do more to support them. The Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation (SPSF) will soon announce a multi-million-dollar transformational campaign to successfully change our trajectory as a city, and eventually as a province.
The campaign promises huge support for kids as readers. The money will go to several innovative and proven initiatives to give children literacy tools by Grade 3 so they can keep up with their peers.
Over five years, kids will be able to go to summer reading camp to stop the summer slide, which happens when children don’t have access to books and reading through the summer every year and which has been made worse by the pandemic.
This summer, despite COVID-19, the summer reading camp ran successfully, bringing more than 300 children access to reading skills. The SPSF will also bring retired teachers into schools through the literacy tutor program to support one-on-one tutoring with children who will learn to read from them.
But starting younger gives kids the best chances of success. The SPSF will introduce full-day Kindergarten and full day pre-Kindergarten in 15 key schools and measure the difference in literacy skills over the following five years.
With this data, we can learn and grow as a province as we decide where government funding is best spent in the future. We can transform Saskatchewan with early interventions in literacy.
The SPSF ran a pilot project at Mayfair School in the 2019-20 academic year. Children were invited to attend full-day pre-Kindergarten as well as a full-day Kindergarten this academic year.
Even with the challenges of COVID-19, the results of the pilot have been extraordinary, with most of the children showing huge leaps in their literacy and understanding — and, perhaps even more importantly, in their confidence.
As parents, we see the impact that confidence has for a child in the classroom. When kids feel confident, they trust themselves to excel at school in all areas.
One Grade 2 student, Alice, who was barely reading and who sat at the back of the classroom with her hoodie up around her face to hide, began work with a literacy tutor last year. She can now read ahead of a Grade 3 level in Grade 3. Her confidence as a student has grown and she thrives now, shining as a student and proud of her astonishing leap forward as a reader, and of her success.
The Ann Casey Foundation says, “A child who can’t read at grade level by Grade 3 is four times less likely to graduate than a child who does read proficiently by that time.”
We can change this outcome, despite the challenges our schools face. We can lead the country with the programming the Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation plans for, all safely and carefully instigated with proper pandemic protocol.
This is an investment each of us can be a part of, knowing that every child and everyone in our province gains.
For more information visit earlylearningequalstart.ca