Anyone who has made bedtime reading with children a nightly ritual knows the benefits of doing so. There’s the learning that takes place long before a child can even read, pointing out colors and animals; the bonding between adult and child; and, of course, the drowsiness that -hopefully – settles in and sends sleepy heads off to dream.
But not all reading takes place this way, nor does it have to for children to reap the benefits of reading. We know how important it is for children to be reading on grade level by grade 3; there is ample research to show how critical that milestone is for successful outcomes.
In Duval County, where literacy rates mirror national trends, there have been several large-scale efforts to boost literacy rates in the past, including “Read It Forward Jax,” “Mayor Peyton’s Book Club,” and “SAIL Into Reading.” While each of these campaigns have moved the needle, even slightly, towards increased literacy for our youth in Duval County, the need and energy exists for a more strategic and collaborative approach to addressing disparate literacy rates in our community.
In 2021, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) partnered with Kids Hope Alliance, Duval County Public Schools, READ USA, WJCT, Jacksonville Public Library, and others along with Lectio Consulting to plan out the initial stages of the “READ JAX” campaign, with the goal of improving 3rd grade literacy in Duval County.
We kicked off READ JAX at a luncheon in March 2022 and have launched a microsite, ReadJax.org, which will soon provide resources and information for caregivers, teachers and early learning professionals, along with community members who want to join this effort.
The good news is that we’re starting from a high level of awareness as to the importance of reading. Recent research conducted by the University of North Florida on behalf of JPEF shows that 90% of parents recognize the importance of reading to their child’s success and 71% believe children should read every day. However, the reality is that less than half of parents are reading to their children every day and only about a third reported that their children read by themselves every day.
We will be conducting more research into obstacles to reading, but one thing we do know is that parents are busy, with many working more than one job. We also know that this is not a problem just for parents to solve. Everyone in the community benefits from higher literacy rates – from better economic and health outcomes to more employment options - we all have a vested interest in creating a culture of literacy in Duval County.
This summer, JPEF and READ JAX are sponsoring a Summer Social Challenge to showcase how caring adults are reading with or to the children in their lives. Research shows that reading just 20 minutes a day leads to better academic, economic and health outcomes and we’re asking everyone to model that behavior through the Summer Social Challenge.
The Summer Social Challenge will run now through the end of July. Caring adults are invited to post photos or short videos of themselves reading with or to children to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #READJAX attached. One winner will be selected from each social media platform and will be awarded $250. To enter, participants must simply like READ JAX on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and use the hashtag #READJAX on their entry.
This is just one way to be involved in creating a culture of literacy in Duval County. There are many others and I invite everyone to join this effort. With everyone’s help, the story of Duval County literacy rates, like all the best stories, does have a happy ending.