Newark launches citywide literacy initiative

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka kicked off a citywide reading initiative Tuesday that starts with a Mayor’s Book Club. It’s meant to get Newark’s youth reading outside of school. The son of famed poet Amiri Baraka, the mayor shared how reading was a critical part of his own personal and professional growth.

“We need to allow people the opportunity to read as fun, read as adventure,” he said. “I’m telling you that reading is not just something that you do academically. Reading is something that you do to advance yourself personally, socially, intellectually.”

“This initiative is a new literacy coalition in the city of Newark. And the name of it is #NewarkReads,” said Office of Comprehensive Community Education Chief Education Officer Antoinette Richardson.

Richardson explained the three pillars of the Newark Reads initiative, starting with the book club, then moving to an adult literacy program next year and a third phase that targets birth to third grade children.

“And what it means is we are going to be doing a lot more reading in this city, and discussing together that we are going to engage in civic discourse about books,” she said.

The books chosen for the summer readings are “I am Malala” and “The Crossover,” two stories that are relatable to Newark’s youth. They’re available for free for any Newark student who registers. That’s possible because of corporate and nonprofit partners like Panasonic, United Way, and Newark City of Learning Collaborative who underscored the connection between literacy and student success.

“Students who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are far less likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and ultimately become economically successful in adulthood,” said Reginald Lewis, executive director for Newark City of Learning Collaborative.

“The summer months are just a couple of weeks away from us. And the summer slide, and the summer learning loss, is an impact that happens to students all across the United States of America, and it impacts us here in the city of Newark most profoundly,” said Newark Superintendent Roger León.

Newark ranks in the bottom 6% of all New Jersey districts in literacy proficiency as of the last testing data released by the Newark Literacy Coalition. To combat that, and keep kids reading through the summer months, the books have to be fun.

“We are excited about the journey students will begin through the books selected to be part of this initiative, that will introduce them to modern day heroes. And with every turning page, a reminder that reading can be fun and not feel like homework,” said Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the Panasonic Foundation.

The books will be available in all libraries by June 17. They’re starting with 500 copies, but the mayor’s office is prepared to increase that number as demand grows.

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