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September 11, 2023

Literacy partnerships can lessen learning gaps

literacy partnerships

Originally published in The Detroit News (PDF version)

By Cindy Eggleton, Adeola Whitney, and Michelle Torgerson

With the school year starting, an innovative partnership between national reading programs and a grassroots-based community organization was forged to ensure Detroit youth and families had the opportunity to experience the joy of reading.

At the beginning of summer break, Brilliant Detroit, Raising a Reader, and Reading Partners teamed up with other existing organizations to offer literacy support to students and families across the city.

Brilliant Detroit already had families within its program looking for extra literacy support for their kids, Raising a Reader was looking to extend the reach of their summer learning program, and Reading Partners wanted to expand its evidence-based literacy tutoring to prepare more kids for the school year ahead.

So, bringing three pieces of the puzzle together, Reading Partners and Raising a Reader joined “Detroit Reads!”, which is Brilliant Detroit’s citywide initiative to combat summer learning loss.

This is the kind of comprehensive, layered partnership that students deserve.

Brilliant Detroit has created 18 community hubs, where children have everything they need to succeed in school and life. The hubs are deeply connected to each family and are able to support students logging into literacy tutoring sessions on Reading Partners Connects, an online tutoring program run by AmeriCorps members fresh off a year-long service term.

After their tutoring session, students can take home one of the many books provided by Raising a Reader to continue working on their literacy skills.

Why is this partnership so vital to Detroit’s students?

For decades, millions of students have experienced a “summer slide,” or a decline in academic skills and knowledge gained over the previous school year. But the disrupted learning caused by COVID exacerbated this learning loss, leaving students on average four to six months behind in their learning.

Students of color and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experienced even greater learning loss. These students tend to have fewer resources available to them in their schools and communities, like high-quality tutoring, inclusive and diverse books, or important summer programming.

All students deserve to have the opportunity to learn. And in order to excel in school and beyond, they need foundational literacy skills.

Curriculums typically shift from learning to read to reading to learn between third and fourth grade, and keeping up with lessons in other classes becomes increasingly challenging for students who aren’t reading at grade level by then. At a time when literacy skills are at lows not seen since the ’70s, summer learning, and specifically summer reading, is integral to a student’s education journey.

With over 400 families in the program, students have been strengthening their literacy skills and preparing for the school year ahead. And the partnership won’t end there. Reading Partners and Raising a Reader plan to continue working with Brilliant Detroit throughout the school year to support even more students.

Addressing the nation’s literacy crisis doesn’t have one simple solution. What we need is an interconnected, mission-aligned, equity-focused web of support, like the one implemented in Detroit this summer.

Cindy Eggleton is co-founder and CEO of Brilliant Detroit. Adeola Whitney is CEO of Reading Partners. Michelle Torgerson is president and CEO of Raising a Reader.

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