As the coronavirus spread last spring, schools across Arizona closed their doors. Teachers, parents, and students struggled to navigate a virtual learning environment for which most were unprepared. The real impact of this transition to at-home, online learning is yet to be fully understood. However, it is projected that the academic achievement gap between students from low-income backgrounds and their more affluent peers will continue to widen as a result of factors like internet unreliability and inequitable access to devices like laptops and smartphones. A growing literacy gap is of particular concern, as reading is foundational to educational success and lifelong opportunities.
To address these academic challenges and inequities, many educators, organizations, and communities quickly pivoted to provide supports and services in new and innovative ways. Read Better Be Better (RBBB), an Arizona-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect young readers and youth leaders to inspire a love of literacy and learning, did just that. Read Better Be Better adapted its traditional, school-based program to a new model called “Read Better Be Better At Home”. RBBB At Home is intended for families with a second to fourth grade student and a middle or high student in the home. The middle or high school student leads the younger student through the program, improving their leadership skills while supporting their partner’s reading skills. Students read stories, write down their thoughts, and interact away from screens. Of the students RBBB serves, a large percentage are from underserved communities.
To set families up for success in the RBBB At Home program, RBBB staff ensure caregivers and children have the materials and resources they need. For example, families receive a Literacy Kit and are provided with the opportunity to engage in a virtual training on how to implement the program. Throughout the course of six weeks, RBBB program coaches check in with caregivers weekly to assist with any questions, concerns, or technical issues.
Third grade reading is a pivotal time in a student’s academic journey and in life, as this is the last year in which children learn how to read. Beyond third grade, non-fiction content becomes more common, with students expected to read and understand fact-filled texts. According to research, third grade reading proficiency is strongly correlated with high school graduation. RBBB’s creative efforts to improve literacy outcomes among students in this age bracket is more critical than ever, particularly among subgroups of students who are at the greatest risk of falling further behind as a result of the pandemic.
Helios Education Foundation, a proud partner of RBBB, believes that every student, regardless of zip code, deserves a high-quality education. Helios and RBBB’s most recent partnership support an expansion of the RBBB program in ten Title I schools in the Peoria Unified School District. Through this partnership, over 100 students have already participated in the RBBB At Home Program, with a projection of more than 600 students served over the next two years.