From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please welcome today’s guest blogger, Tamara Cox, the Eliterate Librarian, is a self-proclaimed “wannabe edtech geek” and middle school librarian in South Carolina.

Tamara Cox

Reaching Out to Students in Poverty & Building a Love of Reading
According to Census records, 1 in 5 children in America live in poverty. The students I serve are no exception. In my school we have a 68% poverty rate. That translates to almost 7 out of 10 of our students living at or below the poverty line. What does that mean for me as a teacher and librarian? How can I encourage a love of reading in these students? What can our school do to help students rise above these challenges?
Research supports the following goals:

1.   Increase access to books.
Children in poverty have limited or no access to books at home. Access to books increases reading which positively influences writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. This connection makes access a huge priority. Educators can increase access by offering extended library hours, host a book swap and book fair, build classroom libraries and give books as rewards.

2.     Provide a variety of reading materials.
When students are asked about their favorite books the answers are widely varied. This means that we need to have books that appeal to many interests and levels. Buy popular titles, not just the award winners. Subscribe to magazines and don’t forget about comics and manga series.

3.     Build support for silent sustained reading.
Carving out time for students to read for pleasure at school is so important and supported by research. For SSR to have the highest impact it must be supported by all of the teachers and students must see the teacher reading during this time. Communicate the importance of the program to all staff members by sharing research findings.

4.     Build relationships.
Building relationships is vital for students living in poverty. They need role models and mentors that can show them an alternative to their current situation. It is often recommended that teachers loop with their students in order to deepen relationships. Even without looping students can build lasting relationships with the librarian, counselors and other faculty. Create an environment that makes students feel welcome and safe. Showing up for performances and games and expressing interest in the students’ lives is another component of connecting.

5.     Allow students to eat in the library and classroom. Children of poverty are often food insecure. Either they are undernourished and hungry or they have a fear that they may be hungry in the near future. Allow your students to drink water and eat healthy snacks in school.

6.     Plan a summer reading outreach. Children of poverty suffer the most from summer slide (loss of learning during summer months) because they lack access to books. Organize a summer reading program, offer summer library hours or allow students to check out books during summer months.

Our school has many other programs for our low-income students that are not directly related to reading. These include a school food pantry, a school-run market for clothes, school supplies and toiletries, tutoring before and after school, lunch time learning, breakfast in the classroom, neighborhood bus tours for teachers and a poverty simulation professional development.

I would love to hear from other librarians and educators on how they reach out to students in poverty. What does your school or library do for these students?

Thank you, Tamara, for these great thoughts. Your students are so lucky to have you on their team!

You can find Tamara blogging, tweeting (@coxtl) or pinning when she isn’t reading a book.

No Responses to “From the Office of the Future of Reading”

  1. Jane Martyn

    Draw them in w/ video games and movies? I know that sounds awful, but I used to do a lot of work on an Indian reservation (also suffers from high poverty rates) w/ middle school kids. I tutored, so I was constantly using things that I knew they loved in exchange for reading. However, a lot of the kids I worked w/ also had learning disability challenges, so it was really important to include activities that weren’t a struggle attention-span-wise. A good summer program would be great, but there are often so many problems w/ transportation, etc. Activities in which you can bring the library to them are often the best- I’d recommend trying to team up w/ other services or community events in your area. You might not be able to get books in their hands through those events, but it at least provides a reminder of the importance of reading and lets the kids get to know you/your library more. For example, we had a great birth to 3 program that helped young parents and encouraging parents to read was a huge part of that. Sorry for the long post! I’ve obviously thought about this issue a lot.