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St. Louis and St. Louis County NAACP launch effort to raise Black kids’ literacy rates

An illustration of a book on a kids shoulder saying "read me."
LA Johnson
St. Louis and St. Louis County NAACP chapters want to improve literacy rates in the region. The groups launched the "Right to Read" campaign this month with a mission to get children, especially Black children, proficient in fourth grade reading by 2030.

The St. Louis and St. Louis County NAACP chapters are launching a reading campaign to help get children, especially Black children, reading proficiently by 2030.

The civil rights groups will partner with school districts, parents and community organizations to help implement the NAACP’s "Right to Read" campaign. It aims to close the gap between Black student performance and state academic standards.

It is incumbent upon everyone to help children fall in love with reading, said Adolphus Pruitt, St. Louis chapter president.

“We can't just simply put it in the lap of the teachers, and we can’t simply put it in the lap of the parents; it is a community issue that needs to be addressed community wide,” Pruitt said.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress report card, three in 10 Missouri students are reading proficiently by the fourth grade. The findings are lower for African American students; only one in 10 Black children in Missouri read proficiently by the fourth grade.

Local NAACP officials adopted the campaign from a literacy documentary that highlighted an Oakland-based NAACP activist’s fight to increase Black children’s reading scores. Pruitt said area officials were astounded by reading scores in the St. Louis region, and the districts here have literacy issues similar to those in other states.

“Literacy is the foundation for an equitable life,” Pruitt said. “It's time that we start looking at what we can do, how we can partner to help school districts, how we can partner to help parents, and how we can bridge the gap between the parents and teachers.”

On Wednesday, both local chapters held sessions with parent groups, superintendents, university directors and state education leaders to discuss student performance impediments. Over the next few months, they will continue the discussions with community members as well. And once officials have finalized reading improvement research, they will make specific recommendations and requests to local stakeholders to begin pushing toward the 2030 goal.

There are a number of efforts that need to happen to make learning equitable for Black children, said Ian Buchanan, the city chapter’s education chair.

“There are some needs to make sure that teaching and learning fits the particular cultural modality of the students that we serve and support,” he said. “Then, obviously, there are districts who have more resources than others.”

Buchanan added that school district and state education officials need to provide more professional development and training, more curriculum support and increased social and emotional assistance for Black students in the area.

“Unless you can ensure that kids feel safe, feel a sense of belonging, feel that loving, feel challenged, feel the high expectations, and have those quality relationships in those classrooms, we won't move the needle,” he said.

The campaign is also pushing for students to have equal access to literacy instruction, high quality textbooks and materials. Both chapters need literacy coaches and reading programs to offer district leaders to help guide instruction and prepare students to become proficient readers.

“We want kids to live the lives that they deserve and [we] want kids to flourish and thrive,” Buchanan said. “And they cannot do that at their full potential if they are not literate.”

St. Louis NAACP education chair Ian Buchanan and former teacher and literacy advocate Kareem Weaver joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the “Right to Read” campaign. Listen to the conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.

NAACP groups launch effort to raise St. Louis-area literacy rates by 2030

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.