Reading is fundamental to success, and the achievement disparity shown by recent studies by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides a clear call to action – Virginia needs to do better.
Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed into law the Virginia Literacy Act, a bipartisan effort to address lagging reading rates in the commonwealth.
Various research released this fall have shown a sharp decline in reading scores among Virginia elementary schools, exposing serious achievement gaps that could lead to educational disadvantages for future generations. In NAEP’s “Nation’s Report Card,” reading levels in Grade 4 fell 10 points from 2019 to 2022, and Virginia’s score fell below the national average.
Enter, The Literacy Lab.
The Literacy Lab is a national nonprofit that focuses its work on key regions, including three markets in Virginia, and combats the decline in early reading education by providing students with evidence-based and culturally-responsive literacy interventions and instruction.
“The Literacy Lab works to provide culturally-relevant literacy support to communities facing inequality,” said Emma Byrne, regional director of The Literacy Lab. “We have a set of core values, one of the values is equity through impact and impact through equity. When we think about our ‘why,’ we have to be thoughtful about the historical context.”
Byrne addressed the NAEP scores and noted there is serious action to be taken in Virginia. She also mentioned how, as part of the Virginia Literacy Act, many resources are being directed toward schools to support literacy development and help close the educational gap.
For its part, The Literacy Lab launched programs in Central Virginia in 2016. Its current partnerships include Richmond Public Schools, Henrico County Public Schools, Hopewell City Public Schools, Danville Public Schools, Norfolk Public Schools, Portsmouth Public Schools, and Newport News Public Schools. The organization strives to close the literacy gap by embedding full-time and part-time tutors in early childhood centers and elementary schools to help children from the age of three to the third grade.
Aside from monetary donations, one of the biggest ways the community can get involved with The Literacy Lab is through one of its programs. There is the Reading Corps, which is part of AmeriCorps and employs tutors full-time to help administer the set of literacy interventions that are part of The Literacy Lab. Another program is its Leading Men Fellowship, which fosters the training and education of young men of color to serve as Literacy Tutors embedded in a PreK classroom while also becoming role models and leaders in an educational setting.
Educators can apply, but tutors don’t need an education degree or formal literacy education to get involved.
“Tutors don’t need a background in education, literacy or even want to become teachers,” Byrne said. “There is a wide range of tutors, from all kinds of backgrounds, ages and demographics. We welcome people from all identities. The most important thing is liking to work with kids. If you are the type of person who is excited by that, and thinks it will be fun – this is a good opportunity for you.”
If you are interested in donating or signing up to be a tutor, check out The Literacy Lab website and submit your application at: https://theliteracylab.org/apply/