Passion for Justice

Everybody Reads - Supporting Families to Read Together

by Lisa Klope

During the long summer break in the traditional school year, students in under-resourced communities may not have access to opportunities to maintain the progress they made in the previous school year. In fact, up to 50% of what is referred to as the achievement gap can be attributed to learning loss experienced during the summer months over the years from kindergarten to fifth grade.

In summer 2015, the Everybody Reads! program was launched to address summer learning loss and provide free literacy support to families living in the Western Addition and Bayview neighborhoods of San Francisco. Under the leadership of Sheryl Davis, Executive Director of Collective Impact, and in partnership with the USF School of Education and the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, the eight week reading program works with families to increase time spent reading during the summer and provide caregivers with strategies for reading with children.

For over a decade, Collective Impact has provided free books and summer reading programs to school-aged children living in San Francisco. The Everybody Reads! program was designed to build on this work and focus especially on engaging families in the reading process. “The Everybody Reads! program approach was designed to foster a collaborative effort and meaningfully involve our parents and caregivers and their children in the process,” explains Devi Zinzuvadia, Outreach & Volunteer Manager for Collective Impact.

Everybody Reads! strives to support parents and caregivers as children’s first teachers and to increase the amount of time they read with children. To reach these goals, Everybody Reads! provides participants with books and a family reading handbook, and hosts a variety of social events to connect families and create a community of reading support. “Our Everybody Reads! families fostered such incredible fellowship within the group. This community building and mutual support was, for me, as much of a highlight as any other success we achieved with this program,” says Zinzuvadia. “Our group represented a variety of different cultural experiences, home languages, city neighborhoods, and school communities, but there was a real and true bond established over an experience shared family to family.”

Dr. Helen Maniates and Dr. Isabel Nuñez, faculty in the USF Teacher Education Department, organized the reading handbook around a list of 14 recommended books, as well as instructions for reading and discussing the books with children. “Dr. Maniates and I were motivated by the research showing that reading engagement, which is basically love of reading, is a better predictor of reading achievement than age or socioeconomic status,” explains Nuñez. “Our goal was to inspire a love of reading through fun experiences with books and family members. We chose books with social justice themes, but our main consideration was enjoyment.”

Books were selected especially for families in the Western Addition and Bayview neighborhoods of San Francisco. All books focus on African American characters, settings, and authors, and highlight one of the following social justice elements - identity, awareness and/or action. Highlighting books with a social justice focus was an important aspect of the program. As the Everybody Reads! Family Handbook states, “Children are aware of injustice and experience injustices every day. Stories can contribute to building children’s resilience. The authors of the books in this program speak to us about developing a positive identity, becoming aware of others and aware of injustices, and taking action against injustices. They show children taking action and making history.”

In addition to the Family Handbook, Sheryl Davis, Executive Director of Collective Impact, created a second reading guide for staff working in summer enrichment programs. This guide, called Summer Guide: Making History Past, Present, Future, provides a list of 25 additional texts with activities for teaching the texts to school-aged children. Aligned with the Everybody Reads! program, the support provider’s handbook is based on texts with African American characters, authors and settings, and focuses on an element of social justice. The guide also includes worksheets to support reading reflection and assess student learning, as well as fun activities to engage students during the summer, such as Frisco Bingo and a list of the top 45 things to do in San Francisco. Davis created the guide to support staff in planning specific and intentional curriculum for their summer programs. As the Summer Guide describes, “summer learning programs have the potential to be impactful, but only if programming is more than an afterthought, and is instead a collaborative effort to support children in getting to their best success.”

Through the generous support of Engage San Francisco, a graphic designer produced the final versions of the handbooks. Engage San Francisco, an initiative of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, works collaboratively with the Western Addition, staff, faculty and students from all USF colleges and the Division of Student Life to support service-learning and community-based research projects to contribute to a more just San Francisco. Engage San Francisco has been a long time supporter of the Collective Impact programs, contributing several grant awards to projects completed in collaboration with the community based organization. Their contribution to the Everybody Reads! Family Handbook and Summer Guide was essential to the success of the programs.

Families participating in Everybody Reads! were required to read with their child at least once a week, complete a weekly reading reflection, and participate in a minimum of four summer gatherings. Gatherings included activities such as a trip to the House of Air at Ft. Mason, a private cooking class at Macy’s Cellar, a meal at Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant and more. The program quickly garnered enthusiasm beyond expectation. “The program drew family participants from the Western Addition Beacon, Hillcrest Elementary School, and the Mo'MAGIC collaborative,” explains Zinzuvadia. “Our original target number for family participants was 20, but interest outpaced that number quickly, and by the time we got rolling in late May, the total number of participant families in the pilot was closer to 35.” In total, 63 youth and their families read 160 titles and logged over 425 hours of reading. Participants reported spending 108.5 hours writing their reading reflections and participated in over 40 hours of field trips.

To celebrate these impressive achievements, Collective Impact hosted an award ceremony in September to honor participants and program staff. Landon Dickey, Special Assistant to the Superintendent for African American Achievement and Leadership, honored participants with certificates of honor from San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed shared a special message with participants honoring their accomplishments and encouraging them to continue in their work. President Breed also honored Dr. Maniates with a Certificate of Honor from The City and County of San Francisco.

The excitement for the Everybody Reads! program and the learning that was accomplished has continued past this culminating event. In fact, three parents that participated in the program suggested that the group continue to meet for a monthly book club to read and reflect together. The inaugural book club meeting took place October 28th. Says Zinzuvadia, “It’s been hugely exciting to see the enthusiasm for and the commitment to this work continue, and to see our families be the impetus for that growth.”