For parents and students of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the upcoming school year will usher in another period of academic uncertainty.

On Thursday, the school board voted to keep classrooms closed, assigning students to remote, at-home learning to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

At Read Charlotte, officials are taking steps to ensure that some of the district’s youngest students — especially those who face the biggest academic challenges — aren’t left behind in their reading development.

With help from CMS and funding from Foundation For The Carolinas, Read Charlotte has launched the Reading Checkup, an online tool for students in grades K-4.

The interactive website offers a host of in-home activities that perfectly align with a child’s reading needs.

With in-school learning now on hold, Read Charlotte’s Executive Director Munro Richardson said at-home learning has never been more vital for young readers.

“After the school closures, we pivoted our work,” he said. “We knew that, first and foremost, we wanted to be able to be a good partner with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. We were concerned about the potential for a significant reading loss over the summer.”

How it works

To develop the Reading Checkup website, Read Charlotte worked with Learning Ovations, a company based in Irvine, Calif.

Parents who go to the site can sign up for a free account. Their children can then take brief online quizzes that identify each child’s reading needs. And once those needs are established, a “Home Literacy Coach” recommends family-friendly activities designed to help each child’s reading development.

The activities focus on two basic areas of reading development — activities that help children decode letters and sounds, and activities that build reading comprehension.

Richardson said the website is designed to eliminate much of the guesswork for parents.

“Families are overwhelmed with all sorts of things that are coming at them,” he said. “And they often get this huge list of things that they’re supposed to sort through and figure out.”

Some of the online activities are designed to be parent-led; others allow children to work independently.

Learning loss

Because of remote learning, which began in the spring in school districts across the nation, education experts are predicting that American students will suffer a significant learning loss.

McKinsey & Company, a New York-based consulting firm, puts the average loss at about seven months for all students in grades K-12. But for Black and Hispanic students, the learning loss will be even greater, averaging 10 and nine months respectively.

Meanwhile, low-income students, regardless of race, will fair worst of all, sacrificing a full year’s worth of learning, according to McKinsey & Company’s estimate.

Richardson said he worries the coronavirus outbreak and the absence of in-school instruction will leave a permanent mark on the development of some students, just as the rings of a tree can signify years of drought or destructive fires.

In designing the Reading Checkup, Richardson said his team at Read Charlotte placed an emphasis on having a variety of family-friendly activities — at least 250 — that would be assigned based on a child’s individual needs.

“You can have two children in the same family take the assessments, and be in the same grade, but get different recommendations based on their reading levels,” he said.

Community partners

To help build community awareness, Read Charlotte has assembled a broad and diverse coalition of more than 70 community partners, including CMS. The coalition also includes community groups, large corporations, and houses of worship.

Read Charlotte has reached out to individuals, media organizations, and community influencers, and has developed a toolkit with promotional material that can be shared in person or posted on social media.

“We’re going to lock arms around this important issue and help our families help our kids this summer,” Richardson said.

One of those partners, the Charlotte affiliate of the National Black Child Development Institute, has been working locally for more than five years to “advance the quality of life for Black and Brown children and their families,” said Devonya Govan-Hunt, president.

That effort includes on-the-ground literacy programs for children. But with the arrival of Covid-19, Govan-Hunt said, those outreach programs came to a “screeching halt.”

“We have had to go back and change everything we do,” she said.

Govan-Hunt said her organization worked with Read Charlotte and local families as the Reading Checkup program was being tested and developed. And now that the website is launched, Govan-Hunt said her organization will continue working with Read Charlotte to provide curbside events for families.

“We will set up in front of grocery stores, within the vicinity of a cluster of schools, and invite our families to come out and get demonstrations about how to actually execute these activities at home,” she said. “We’ll make sure that they have supplies that they need in order to execute the activities.”

Govan-Hunt said her organization also will assist Read Charlotte with virtual events for families.

At a recent curbside event, Govan-Hunt said volunteers representing her organization gave away 350 free books to local children, 175 learning kits, and signed up about 100 families for the Reading Checkup.

“We truly believe in this tool,” she said. “Parents came out and were lined up around the corner. They were eager.”

Govan-Hunt added: “Parents do want what is best for their kids. If they have the right tools, and are shown how to use those tools, they will do what is best for their children.”

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