Literacy Initiative

The Need

38% of Philadelphia’s youth live in poverty1 and only 17% of Philadelphia’s 4th graders read proficiently.2 Nationally, just 48% of impoverished youth start school with the needed reading readiness skills.3 Research shows that early literacy skills are a key indicator of future academic success in high school and beyond. Children who do not read proficiently by third grade endure long term consequences. Teenage girls between the ages of 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty line and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to be a teen parent.4 Impoverished youth not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are 13x more likely not to graduate high school5 than their proficient peers from economically stable households. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources and funding, many youth attending Philadelphia’s schools are not taught to read a way that is conducive to their learning style and needs.

Our Program

Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia started the Literacy Initiative to bridge the educational gap in Philadelphia’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Today, this program serves over 1,300 youth in 14 of our Clubs, including five elementary school partnership sites. Each Literacy Center is staffed with a full-time supervisor trained in multi-sensory instruction, which emphasizes Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, Fluency and Reading Comprehension, the key areas highlighted by the National Reading Panel to support struggling readers. By providing structured support and using evidence-informed practices, we are able to improve the literacy skills of our youth.

COVID-19 Impact

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we temporarily ceased in-person operations at our Clubs in March 2020. To ensure that our youth continued to receive quality multisensory Literacy instruction, we launched our Digital Experiences For Youth (D.E.F.Y.) Club program on April 20, 2020. As we transitioned to virtual programming in March 2020, multisensory literacy continued to be a focal point of our platform. To continue expansion of high-quality multisensory programming to youth across the country, BGCP is committed to supporting partner Boys & Girls Clubs by providing ongoing training and support in multisensory literacy techniques. Since September 2019, we have conducted three rounds of week-long training in multisensory literacy techniques, both for Philadelphia Literacy Supervisors and for Boys & Girls Club staff across the country interested in implementing the Literacy Initiative at their locations. We have also compiled a resource library on multisensory instruction for staff to encourage continual professional development. These efforts have expanded our local impact, while allowing us to impact other youth in the Boys & Girls Club movement.

On July 6th, 2020, we reopened our doors for summer camp. We served nearly 400 youth in-person at six Club sites and four Philadelphia Housing Authority partnership sites. As the 2020-2021 school year continues to unfold with the School District of Philadelphia holding entirely virtual school days until at least November, Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia remains open to provide full-day programming for our youth to ensure that they receive academic and emotional support in these changing times.

Program Objectives

By providing structured, engaging instruction and enrichment our Literacy Initiative aims to:

Develop Youth into Successful Lifelong Learners by increasing 4th grade reading proficiency, increasing High School Graduation Rates and promoting an environment where youth are excited to learn and grow

Instill Self Confidence in youth by building pride in their skills and abilities, instilling self-motivation, encouraging leadership and fostering positive self-identity

Increase Awareness about Literacy and Multisensory Education by establishing affordable literacy programs for youth in Boys & Girls Clubs locally and nationally, catalyzing a conversation about the nature of Literacy education across the nation, and developing partnerships with schools and other community organizations to promote Multisensory instruction

Develop Good Character & Leadership by empowering youth and developing them into peer mentors and coaches

Multisensory Approach

According to research by Dr. Reid Lyon up to 2 out of 3 children learn best in a multisensory approach, not in the linear methods of reading comprehension used in most schools. Multisensory approaches integrate auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning modalities into the each step of the process. Through the multisensory Approach to Language, our Literacy Initiative builds on the smallest Unit of sight, sound or thought, teaching to the intellect, and ensuring youth success by providing developmentally appropriate learning experiences in a positive environment.

Multisensory approach to learning Traditional (Linear) approach to learning
Uses multiple pathways to encode information into long-term memory Uses single pathway, building short term memorization and retention
Utilizes a hands-on approach that enables students to strengthen pathways in their brains that connect the visual, auditory and kinesthetic components of language Learning takes place on a perscribed path, relying heavily on rote memorization. Students learn skills in isolation focusing on one sensory pathway at a time

Program Impact

One of the most successful elements of our program continues to be the strength, commitment, and creativity of our Executive Vice President of Literacy and Literacy Supervisors. Throughout the year, they create innovative and unique lessons and enrichment activities in order to maintain participants’ attention. Through our monthly meetings we were able to share ideas and resources among sites to improve implementation. With the educational gap that came along with COVID-19, our staff rose to the occasion to ensure that the youth who are the most in need were not left behind. In addition to our work locally, we have provided, trained, and supported 15 Boys and Girls Club organizations nationwide with virtual literacy programming resources. Through these efforts, over 1000 youth have been impacted.

Our Outcomes

We use the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) assessments to track our youth’s progress. This assessment, designed by the University of Oregon assesses students’ baseline skills and growth in the areas of phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 and the transition to online learning, we were not able to obtain year-end Literacy data. Mid-year data indicated that of participants tested twice this year, 99.5% improved their scores from start-of-year to mid-year, and 17% of youth tested twice improved their scores by 25% or more.

Club Kid Success Story

Jaden started out the year struggling with many of his letter sounds. He could not remember most sounds, and even had trouble identifying letters. On his start of year assessment, he scored only 4 points in the Letter Naming Fluency measure. The Literacy Supervisor began teaching Jaden one letter each week. At first, he was shy and hesitant to participate because he did not know a lot of people in his group. As the year progressed, however, both his confidence and his literacy skills improved. Each week, his group played at least one literacy game, and participated in a letter-of-the-week coloring contest. The games not only helped him remember letter sounds, but also allowed him to have fun with his peers and built excitement around learning new letters. His excitement to learn led to an increased competence in recognizing letters and letter sounds and at year’s end, his Letter Naming Fluency score on his DIBELS assessment increased to 37!

Partner Highlight

Our community partners continued to strengthen our literacy work through ongoing support, both prior to and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlights from this year include the renovation of a reading room space at our Vaird Boys & Girls Clubs, made possible by our partnership with Books in Homes USA and the Andre Reed Foundation. Volunteers remodeled the space to create an inviting, exciting reading lounge and filled it with high-interest texts for youth. As our Clubs prepared to reopen for summer camp, we were fortunate to partner with a volunteer group from a local elementary school and the non-profit Books on the Go who donated books for youth to utilize during summer reading at the Club and then add to their home libraries once finished.

Literacy Initiative Supporters

Allen Hilles Fund
Brethren Community Foundation
Dolfinger McMahon Foundation

Elmer Roe Deaver Foundation
Kinder Morgan Foundation
Lincoln Financial Foundation
Lindback Foundation

Philadelphia Insurance Company
PNC Charitable Trusts
Rite Aid Foundation
TD Bank Chritable Foundation
Waste Management
United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern NJ

1PEW Charitable Trusts 2PEW Charitable Trusts3 National Assessment of Educational Progress 4 Anne E Casey Foundation, Double Jeopardy 5 Why Kids Can't Read, Dr. Reid Lyon