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'Literacy for the Lou' project launches in hopes of raising the region's youth literacy

Dana Luster, 42, reads to Louis, one of her 3-year-old students, on Thursday, March 23, 2023, at Little D’s Home Daycare in Bella Villa.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Dana Luster, 42, reads to Louis, one of her 3-year-old students, in March 2023 at Little D’s Home Daycare in Bella Villa. The St. Louis Public School district launched Literacy for the Lou to increase literacy rates across St. Louis. It aims to provide books, literacy activities and summer reading programs to help kids get excited about reading.

The St. Louis Public School District is launching a literacy initiative to get children engaged in reading by placing more books and reading materials in schools and homes.

The Literacy for the Lou campaign also will partner with the St. Louis Public Libraries to help support children beyond the classroom. The initiative will offer children challenging literacy activities and games, as well as summer reading programs. Libraries will supply parents and caregivers with free workshops to support literacy development.

Students should be more than readers, they should be engaged readers who become lifelong readers and critical thinkers, said Keisha Scarlett, superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools.

“Being literate is one of the most powerful tools in humanity,” Scarlett said. “Literacy is more than just the ability to read a book, it is the key to understanding the world around you, it is the key to opportunity and engagement in our democracy.”

The St. Louis Public Library–Central is hosting a kickoff event at noon Saturday for children to explore new books, play literacy games and enjoy reading time with notable and local children’s book authors.

Scarlett said educators in St. Louis are challenged by finding ways to improve literacy rates. She hopes increasing the number of culturally responsive books in school libraries, giving away thousands of books to children and the district’s $4.5 million project to expand its school libraries content will contribute to increased literacy.

"We'll provide resources informed by the science of reading to families and other loved ones that will help our students effectively meet their reading journey with the entire community to be part of the process," she said.

According to the nation’s report card, three out of 10 children in Missouri are reading at grade level in fourth grade. The data shows far worse for African American children. One out of 10 Black students in Missouri are reading proficiently by the fourth grade.

Scarlett said reading is not only for the classroom, it should also be done outside school.

“Anything that you want to be good at, you have to practice, and so we need our students practicing at home, in the car or waiting for their sports class to start,” she said.

The district wants everyone to become invested in helping children pre-K through 12th grade read, by asking students “What books are you reading?” or "What are you writing right now?”

Educators across the district are looking forward to promoting literacy among their students, because they say the initiative can help make reading accessible and fun.

“There's nothing like those light bulb moments when you get to sit with a student and maybe it's beginning to teach them their alphabet and they learn letters, and they're like, ‘Wow, letters go together, they form words,’” said Kelly Casper, principal of Mullanphy-Botanical Garden Investigative Learning Center.

She said reading is a gift for students that can help transport them to the past and the future through books.

Mullanphy fifth grader Cecilia Marrocco enjoys reading because it allows her to escape. She said her mom and teachers taught her how to read. Cecilia hopes Literacy for the Lou challenges students to continue reading more books.

“I think that it is really cool, and I think it will help a lot of kids who don't feel like reading,” she said.

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