‘For our children’: University of Alabama System launches historic statewide reading initiative
The University of Alabama System is launching an ambitious statewide reading initiative designed to help the Yellowhammer State’s K-3 elementary school students read on grade level by the end of third grade.
The landmark program was announced Friday at the annual meeting of the system’s board of trustees.
Envisioned by Dr. Robert Witt, chancellor emeritus of the system, as a way to transform reading proficiency across the state and co-chaired with current system Chancellor Fess “Finis” St. John, Reading Allies will involve working partnerships among all system campuses, higher education and K-12 partners, civic groups and Alabama job creators and industry leaders who share a commitment to transforming reading proficiency across the state.
Reading Allies also aligns with the goals of the recently enacted Alabama Literacy Act, which requires all students to read at grade level by the conclusion of their third grade year. Jarring stats were shared at the board of trustees meeting on Friday, providing background on the importance of Reading Allies.
For example, if the Alabama Literacy Act’s new reading test had been instituted this past academic year, 87% of students in Middlefield’s school district would have been held back, just as 65% of students from underprivileged areas statewide would have been.
In a statement to Yellowhammer News, St. John explained why the UA System is undertaking this major initiative.
“The University of Alabama System is deeply committed to the betterment of education in Alabama at all levels, from pre-K to Ph.D.,” he said. “We believe that the students we prepare for elementary and high school learning through our literacy initiative will be the same students enrolling at one of our great institutions in the future, and will be more college and career ready as a result.”
“As the Chancellor of the university system that educates the most Alabamians worldwide, I am delighted to work with Chancellor Emeritus Witt, the entire education community, and our many future volunteers to enhance educational opportunities for our children in this great state,” St. John concluded.
St. John and Witt on Friday also outlined key goals of the program, which include developing a network of 25 universities and two-year colleges with 1,500 trained student reading tutors in school districts statewide.
The Reading Allies team will recruit over 100 participating businesses and 1,000 trained volunteer employees to serve as tutors in designated K-5 schools.
Based on a proposal submitted by Witt and his colleagues (Dr. Elizabeth Wilson and Vicki Holt), Reading Allies has been selected as the 2019 recipient of the McMahon-Pleiad Prize. The prize was established by the family of system emeritus trustee John McMahon, Jr., to advance collaboration and contribute to Alabama’s success.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn