Open books: New partnership will help Shepherd open a library and boost children’s reading skills

Reading – and reading well – is the most foundational academic skill because it affects every other area of study, from math to technology, science to social studies. 

Becoming a strong reader magnifies a student’s chances of success in school. In turn, success in school magnifies graduates’ ability to land family-sustaining jobs.

So, helping students to set a firm foundation of literacy meshes perfectly with Shepherd Community Center’s mission to break the cycle of poverty.  And that’s why Shepherd recently launched a partnership with the Indianapolis Public Library to create a Shared System Library that will provide Shepherd students and neighbors with access to thousands of books and other resources, including materials in branch libraries throughout the city. 

Shepherd will start construction this fall to convert office and storage space into the new library. The community center also will hire a librarian to manage the collection and to assist students.

“Our goal is to see every child in our neighborhood learn to read and write so that they can succeed in school and eventually the workforce,” Kolton Williford, Shepherd’s director of development, said. “This starts with providing access to more books and literacy tools for our neighborhood children and their parents. We will offer family literacy resources and activities, including VOX books that read themselves aloud, to help parents who struggle with literacy, learn alongside their children.”

Williford noted that research shows that 61% of low-income families don’t have any books for children in their home, and the ratio is one age-appropriate book per every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods. In middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio is about 13 books for every one child.

One other statistic is telling: Children in homes with at least 20 books gain three years in academic attainment over students without books at home, regardless of their parents’ education or jobs.

With our current situation of only 14% of Shepherd Academy students reading at grade level (almost 40% who are close) and 55% proficient in ELA on the new I-Learn testing, we are taking the bold step of committing that 90% of our students who have been with us for at least two years, will be reading at grade level by the fall of 2022,” Williford said. “This bold goal will require significant investment and intentional program design.”

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