standard ‘City’s First Readers’ Program, Universal Pre-K Aim to Counter Youth Literacy Crisis

Elected officials and early education advocates gathered Wednesday on the steps of City Hall (Photo by Matthew Taub)

Elected officials and early education advocates gathered Wednesday on the steps of City Hall (Photo via Stephen Levin’s Office)

A literacy program focused on young readers and significant enrollment in universal pre-K are some new initiatives focusing on the city’s youth literacy crisis and the need for early childhood education, political leaders and concerned advocates announced in a series of events Wednesday.

Alarmingly, some 70% of New York City’s third grade students are reading below grade level. Once they fall behind, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to catch up.

‘First Readers’ Program

The City’s First Readers Program, announced by Council Members Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso on the steps of City Hall, was established as a result of a $1.5 million investment by the New York City Council. It will support a coalition of eight organizations who are working with young children, helping them to become strong and accomplished readers.

“With disparate literacy rates seen throughout New York City, too many of our children are at a disadvantage when they start their education,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin. “The City’s First Readers Program addresses this directly and will help our children become more knowledgeable and enthusiastic readers.”

The literacy coalition includes the Brooklyn Public Library, Jumpstart for Young Children, Literacy, Inc. (LINC), the New York Public Library, the Parent-Child Home Program, the Queens Library, Reach Out and Read of Greater New York, and the Video Interaction Project.

“The program is going to target youth ages 0-5 with a goal of having all these children ultimately reading at grade level, which is not the case currently,” said Councilmember Antonio Reynoso. “Seventy percent of children do not read proficiently by the end of third grade, and we must change that.”

Engaging parents to create a more language and literacy-rich home life for children is at the heart of the City’s First Reader’s Program. Its goal is to foster literacy development through a network of supports, starting with a child’s earliest doctor visits and extending throughout the community to provide families with a steady stream of guidance, parenting workshops and resources to raise their babies into tomorrow’s competent and enthusiastic readers.

Mayor Touts Pre-K Enrollment of More Than 53,000
Mayor Bill de Blasio makes an announcement on Pre-K numbers at P.S 397. (Credit: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio makes an announcement on Pre-K numbers at P.S 397. (Credit: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

The City has successfully enrolled 53,230 children in high-quality, full-day pre-Kindergarten classes this fall, the Mayor proclaimed in an announcement Wednesday afternoon. Since the first day of school, children have been exposed to a common-core aligned curriculum that focuses on developing social interactions, learning language, early literacy and counting skills through reading and self-directed play, and engaging in thematic lessons on topics like transportation and members of their community.

“We are well on our way to providing every child with the right start in their education, so they can succeed in school and in life,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We made pre-K for all the centerpiece of our agenda to fight inequality and give every family opportunity. We are working every day to ensure these programs fulfill their potential and meet the highest standards. Two months in, high-quality, full-day pre-K is changing children’s lives.”

The announcement included a tour of P.S. 397 in lower Manhattan. On the second floor, a group of about 18 students were gathered around a table in a bright, modern classroom, and were given a chance to briefly interact with the Mayor and other city officials, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“We know that universal pre-K is the launching pad to the long-term academic achievement that each and every one of our children needs and deserves. That is why, in 1997, under my leadership, we established the first statewide universal pre-K program,” said Assembly Speaker Silver. “Mayor de Blasio has been a critical advocate and partner to help finally establish full day universal pre-K in New York.”

Of the children presently enrolled in full-day pre-K, 17,152 are in Brooklyn, 13,576 are in Queens, 12,127 are in the Bronx, 7,255 are in Manhattan, and 3,120 are in Staten Island. Children are learning at nearly 1,700 sites at public schools and community-based early childhood centers (CBECCs) in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Next year, the City plans to offer free, full-day, high-quality pre-K for every child in New York City.

All programs are under the ongoing supervision of the Department of Education, with additional oversight by the Administration for Children’s Services, Fire Department, Buildings Department, Department of Investigation, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Teachers have received significant support to ensure the highest quality instruction, with 6,000 educators participating in the city’s first-ever Citywide Professional Development Training specifically for pre-K. To analyze the expansion of pre-K, promote best practices, and improve implementation for next year, the City is partnering with New York University and an independent evaluator to track the system’s progress and engage students, parents and educators. Instructional coaches and supervision teams from the Department of Education have visited every community-based program since the first day of school, to ensure programs are maintaining high standards as the school year continues.