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Opinion: Reading within sight for more Detroit students

Pamela Good
DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti high-fives Caimile Moreland, 5, during his visit at Schulze Elementary School on the first day of school, Sept. 4, 2018.

A new day is dawning in Detroit.

Beyond Basics recently announced “Literacy in Detroit: Be the Solution” — a $30 million fundraising campaign to support our one-on-one tutoring program in Detroit Public Schools Community District, targeting high school students not reading at grade level, at the request of Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD superintendent.

You may ask, “Wouldn’t it be better to start our tutoring with younger children?”

All of our children need to learn to read, but the real, immediate emergency is in our high schools. Our work over the years demonstrates all students are capable of reading better if given the opportunity.

If we don’t rescue these students before graduation, what will their future hold? There are not many career options for those who don’t know how to read. Community college is out. Skilled trades is out. Finding a job is nearly impossible without being able to read.

Illiteracy is a silent epidemic, yet America's most solvable disability. It is a crisis because it has gone unaddressed for decades, leaving thousands of children attending school each day who can’t read. Detroit is not alone in this crisis.  

In 2017, only 7% of Detroit eighth graders were reading proficiently or better, according to results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. Nearly 10,000 DPSCD high school students need our help.

Detroit is at the bottom of the 2017 NAEP list compared to other large cities across America, but is not alone. It is joined by Cleveland, which scored slightly better with 10% and the city of Baltimore at 13%, to name a few.

The good news is there is a solution. Beyond Basics has a proven, holistic literacy model that gets children reading, at all ages, in an average of six weeks. Our trained personnel provide intensive, one-on-one, multi-sensory reading instruction for one hour per day, five days a week using an individualized curriculum.

We established our high school model in 2011, thanks to one of our key supporters Gordon Follmer of UHY LLP, who led an effort to raise the funds needed to partner with Finney High School. We have since expanded our services to many other Detroit high schools with the same successful results.

Take Makayla Link, a Mumford high school student tutored by Beyond Basics. In her pre-test, she read at a fifth-grade reading level. Her post-test had her reading closer to ninth grade.

Makayla’s results are what we see with students who go through our program and commit to one hour a day, five days a week. Literacy works.

It’s a new day in Detroit. One where every high school student will get the intensive care needed to participate in school and in Detroit’s success.

Literacy is an investment in the future of our children and families — an investment in the future of Detroit. This investment has an immediate impact — students’ grades rise and employability improves.

We already have a matching grant funder — Wayne and Joan Webber Foundation — who has believed in our mission from the beginning. Everyone has an opportunity to participate in this initiative. The funding is a necessary first step; however, we need volunteers to read to children once they’ve been tutored and provide mentoring and enrichment activities to encourage a lifelong love of learning. Once we demonstrate success with high school students in Detroit, a literate Detroit becomes a beacon of light for our nation.

This investment in our children will benefit all of us and create a workforce that is desperately needed.

Pamela Good is co-founder and CEO of Beyond Basics, a Detroit area literacy nonprofit.