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Free Library Sunday Literacy Program helps struggling readers

Darryl Murphy

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

If your child is having trouble with reading, the Philadelphia Free Library may be able to help.

The Free Library has launched the Sunday Literacy Program, a free reading assistance initiative for young children in grades K-3. Through the program, children can be tutored each Sunday by volunteers under the supervision of a teacher, or someone with a bachelor’s degree in education and experience in literacy education.

The program is a part of Read by 4th’s citywide initiative to get all schoolchildren reading on grade level by fourth grade. The campaign seeks to increase the number of young students reading at grade level from a reported 33 percent to 100 percent by 2020.

The program – which started last November and runs through May 21 – is being offered at 11 free library locations: Joseph E. Coleman, West Oak Lane Library, Widener Library, Whitman Library, Walnut Street West Library, Andorra Library, Bustleton Library, Northeast Regional Library, Parkway Central Library, South Philadelphia Library, and Wyoming Library. Registration is required, but parents or guardians can register during their first visit.

Each location offers a choice between two 90-105 minute sessions either from 1 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., where children can sharpen their reading, writing, and comprehension skills through exercises and games.

Tina Washington, who taught in the District for 16 years before opening her own preschool in West Philadelphia, leads the program at the Widener location in Strawberry Mansion.

She said the program offers some relief to teachers who aren’t able to focus on struggling students, and provides a safe environment for students who may be reluctant to read in front of others.

“When they come here on Sunday it reinforces to them that as long as they’re improving their reading skills everything is fine,” said Washington, a Temple graduate. “They don’t have to feel like they are in competition with other peers or classmates.”

The students begin by reading a book of their choice from the American Reading Company’s leveled library, where books are broken down into 11 reading levels between kindergarten and fourth grade.

Children at a kindergarten level start out learning fundamentals such as sight-words, words that are easily recognizable (but, the, see) and work their way up through the levels to more complicated reading concepts such as conflict, plot, theme, etc.

Cheryl Bryant, a 17-year teacher in the District, who oversees the program at the Whitman Library, said the children who show up consistently make a lot of progress.

Bryant also said she follows up with parents, requesting report cards and assignments to support the work the child is doing in school.

“I’m not saying this program does it all, but we hope that we are supporting the students progress,” she said.

The program is a big help as well for children whose parents aren’t fluent in English.

Ching Ping, a Center City resident, brings her daughter Sophia, a student at McCall Elementary, to the Whitman location in South Philadelphia every Sunday. She is originally from China and is not fluent in English. She said the program offers additional support that she is not able to provide to her daughter.

“English is my second language,” she said. “I am not good at writing and comprehension, so I can’t help her a lot. So this program is very good for the young kids.”

While reading is serious business, the program is not meant to be just another school day. The books, games, and writing exercises are presented in a way for children to enjoy themselves and be more engaged.

At Widener, Supriya, 7, was the only child to show up at that location last Sunday, which is uncommon. They usually have a turnout of six to eight students.

That didn’t stop her from enjoying a game of sight-word bingo, where she had to identify simple three-letter words on a bingo card.

“I’m a champion,” she cheered after winning the game.

For more information about the Sunday Literacy program, visit here.

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