Child Literacy: Why All San Diegans Should Be Invested

two children reading together

Literacy is the ability to read and write, fundamental skills children will use to accomplish their schoolwork as well as for basic life skills. Unfortunately, not everyone starts with a level playing field. Kids with highly-involved parents, access to books, and more, are at an advantage.  Many children, often from low-income families, do not have the same opportunities to build their literacy skills. Early literacy skills are later applied when learning to read and write in school. Education is one of UWSD’s focuses, and together with our partners, we are working to improve child literacy in San Diego County. Learn more about why child literacy is so important, what we are doing, and how you can get involved.

Why is Early Literacy Important?

Early literacy starts in the first three years of a child’s life, beginning the moment they’re born. Reading, rhyming, singing, and talking are all ways that kids’ literacy can be developed. This early development is highly correlated with school achievement. Furthermore, developing literacy skills such as developing imagination, teaching how to deal with fear, identifying emotions, and much more. Reading plays a role in all aspects of child development, including talking, thinking, reasoning, playing and emotional development are interdependent.

It’s also progressive, which means that the skills keep building on each other. Missing a critical milestone puts a child at risk of not reaching the next one.

Literacy Extends Beyond School Success to Life in General

Reading is a critical skill, not just for students in school, but for overall access and satisfaction in life.

  • Getting a complete education leads to good-paying jobs, which contributes to family stability. Studies show third grade reading achievement leads to on-time high school graduation. In turn, graduation leads to a better paying job and or college, both of which contribute to future family stability.
  • The ability to read is critical for life in general, where you may need to read to understand information about voting, housing, banking, emergencies, and more.

Children Living in Poverty Are at a Disadvantage

Not everyone has the same opportunity to develop literacy skills. For example:

  • Studies have shown that by age 5, half of children living in poverty are not academically or socially ready for school.
  • By fourth grade, the divide increases with 80 percent of low-income children reading below grade level.
  • In San Diego County, 80% of White and Asian 3rd graders read at grade level, but only 50% of their Brown and Black classmates do.

This is why we must commit to reducing racial and economic inequities. That way, we can elevate every child and family toward a brighter future. 

Child Literacy in San Diego: Pandemic Struggles

Before schools closed due to the pandemic, 45% of third-graders in San Diego County were not reading at grade level. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected families challenged to make ends meet, in turn threatening the educational success of children. Whether it’s online or hybrid learning, many families have been forced to adapt to new systems and routines,” says UWSD President & CEO Nancy L. Sasaki. “Before the pandemic, many San Diego families were already struggling to meet reading requirements due to lack of time and access to resources. We know the difficulties our community is facing when it comes to reading at home.”

On average, students could lose five to nine months of learning by the end of June 2021. Students of color could be six to 12 months behind. While studies show that enhancing a child’s access to books at home has a significant impact on their long-term learning, many students in San Diego County do not have enough age-appropriate books in their home libraries.

What Helps Improve Child Literacy Outcomes?

  • Research by the U.S. Department of Education found that “children who are read to at least three times a week by a family member are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less than three times a week.”
  • Research in Social Stratification and Mobility also found that “children growing up in homes with many books get three years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.”

What Is UWSD Doing to Support Child Literacy?

UWSD identifies where students are struggling using data analytics, and works together with partners to develop interventions. Our work includes:

  • Aligning our partners to identify barriers to learning so every student has the opportunity to thrive – regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or zip code. Together, we develop solutions such as: improving parent confidence, helping children enjoy reading, providing books, facilitating hands-on activities, and much moreEfforts to reduce the Summer reading gap, when on average, 3rd-5th graders lose 20% of their reading skills 
  • Most recently, celebrating Read Across America with a book donation drive in partnership with Warwick’s of La Jolla, sponsored by Geico, Holman Enterprises, and Noble Street Advisors to expand in-home libraries for students in our community

How Can You Get Involved?

We are a community of donors, volunteers, and leaders committed to bringing people together to create a safe & equitable community. Join us as we work together to solve important issues, such as inequities in child literacy:

United We Can Be The Change in Our Community!