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The Early Literacy Crisis: A Mom Congress Special Report

HELP IS ON THE WAY

Enter groups like Jumpstart, whose corps of volunteers, a nationwide team of trained community residents and college students, provides intervention in 260 preschools and childcare facilities. Corps members spend six to eight hours each week -- for an entire school year -- reading with kids and doing activities that develop social, language, and literacy skills. The results so far have been impressive: A 2008 review of Jumpstart's program run out of Illinois State University found that the children who received literacy intervention showed fall-to-spring gains in achievement -- on three different tests -- that were two to three times greater than children who did not participate in the program. Zadrian Rodriguez, now 6, benefited from the Jumpstart corps while attending Vanda, and his sister, Nazlyn, 5, is part of the program as well.

Washington seems to be on board, too: Last year's stimulus bill allocated $5 billion for early learning programs like Head Start, a federal program that provides comprehensive early-childhood development services to low-income children. It also included $5 billion in challenge grants to encourage innovative programs that work toward closing "the achievement gap."

The next step: States also need to make early education more accessible. Research has shown that public pre-kindergarten programs increase high school graduation rates, improve academic outcomes, and reduce the number of children who require special-education services, says Marci Young, the director of Pre-K Now, a group working to make quality pre-kindergarten available for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Currently, only 24 percent of 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds in the U.S. are in a state-funded program, according to Pre-K Now.

Public awareness and support for programs that encourage reading is essential as well. A poll by the Pearson Foundation and Jumpstart found that while 95 percent of Americans consider early childhood literacy an important issue, they were not aware that reading to a child between the ages of 3 and 5 is critical for future achievement.

Zadrian Rodriguez is proof of that. Now a first-grader at Hodges Elementary in Lubbock, the little boy loves reading the books he brings home from the school library. His sister, Nazlyn, just got her first book, Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, from her participation in Jumpstart's program. Wednesdays are Zadrian's favorite day at school because that's when they have spelling tests. "He loves when he gets a hundred," says Amelia Rodriguez. "We put it on the refrigerator and we all give high fives." With enough noise, maybe state and federal elected officials can also give a big high five to early literacy education for all.

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