In a city where children's reading skills are low, nonprofits are trying to engage parents of children with the lowest proficiency -- Latino students.
"It is brutal what's happening in our city," said Michael Toledo, executive director of the Daniel Torres Hispanic Center. "These kids are products of their environment, but we cannot make excuses anymore. Parents have to understand they are the front line."
In December the state Department of Community & Economic Development awarded a $175,000 grant to the Hispanic Center to combat English illiteracy for children in Latino and Spanish-speaking households.
As part of the United Way's "Ready. Set. Read!" literacy initiative, the center has brought in Elaine Moreno Raffucci, a bilingual educator from Lancaster, to serve as the center's director of early childhood literacy and higher education.
Spearheading the center's literacy program, she will put an emphasis on educating parents.
"The program will introduce and re-enforce the concepts of literacy education," Moreno Raffucci said. "It will promote learning in the home and instill in them that as parents, they are the first teachers."
Moreno Raffucci will be pulling participants from lists of families who use services provided by organizations such as United Way, the YMCA, the Berks County Head Start program, Service Access management and the Reading School District's family literacy program.
She plans to make home visits and pitch the program to bilingual or Spanish-speaking families in Reading.
Her goal is to have 20 to 25 families taking part in weekly literacy-teaching courses, which will last five to 10 weeks.
As part of the effort, the Hispanic Center will gauge the progression of the Latino families and students. Launched in November, "Ready. Set. Read!" aims to get 90 percent of Berks County's third-graders to reach reading proficiency by 2023.
Currently, only 75 percent of the county's third-grade students read proficiently, and statistics show that Latino students are falling behind more than any other group.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education Academic Achievement Report Card, only 43 percent of Latino students in grades three to five met the state's Adequate Yearly Progress report in 2012.
Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, tests also reflect Latino students' relative lack of literacy among ethnic groups.
In addition to reaching out to Latino parents specifically, the "Ready. Set. Read!" initiative will provide tutoring and training to at-risk youth.
According to the 2010 Census, 57.2 percent of children in Reading are living in poverty and 74 percent of impoverished people in the city are Latinos.
"We are in a crisis mode," Toledo said. "We have to change how our youth see learning and how parents approach helping them."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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