Fostering a Love for Reading

Written By: Kiva Barry, Marketing Manager, and Memo Ramirez, Marketing Coordinator

As a child grows up, they learn about the limitless opportunities that await them and dream of becoming writers, video game developers, lawyers, veterinarians, doctors, and more. Barriers such as a lack of access to books at home impact their learning and, ultimately, put these dreams and aspirations at risk. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated educational and literacy gaps in San Diego County. Studies show that if a child falls behind in reading comprehension in the third grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

These obstacles, primarily impacting historically underserved Black and Hispanic communities, often prevent children from developing the critical literacy skills needed to thrive in their education and future careers. We know that literacy gaps in San Diego County fall along racial and economic lines. During the 2021 – 2022 school year, only 35% of Black and Hispanic third-grade students in San Diego County met/exceeded English Language Arts/Literacy expectations, compared to 73% of Asian and 64% of White students.

United Way of San Diego County’s mission is to ensure that all children, individuals, and families have the tools and resources to thrive. Our Read Across America and Early Learners initiatives work to dismantle these barriers by increasing literacy rates at an early age, in turn improving educational outcomes. We have seen time and time again that improving educational outcomes sets up a strong foundation for economic success in adulthood. By partnering with local organizations and corporate partners to leverage resources, we can create meaningful change within our San Diego County community.

Through our Read Across America Book Drive, we provide captivating, high-quality books to children in neighborhoods experiencing educational and economic inequities. From mid-February through the end of March, UWSD is collecting books to fill the homes of students across San Diego County. Last year alone, over 2,000 books were donated to local families to support child literacy development! UWSD’s 2023 goal remains the same, and with the help of our partners and community, we know that we can reach, and hopefully exceed, the number of books donated and distributed!

However, providing access to books is only one piece of the puzzle! We know that personalized instruction through mentoring in tandem with high-quality books can increase student engagement significantly. Through our Early Learners initiatives, we seek to enhance literacy, critical thinking, and communication skills for the children who need the support most.

UWSD is proud to partner with Traveling Stories, a literacy program that provides one-on-one mentorship to help children become more confident and proficient readers. The mentors help in critical areas such as sound pronunciation, reading habits, and helping to choose books that are relatable and interesting to students! Parents and children alike have said that working with mentors has increased enjoyment of reading and helped to build stronger literacy skills. When asked about her son’s experience in the Traveling Stories program, Sarab said “My son loved reading stories with his volunteer. At first, he was shy, and then he was waiting every day for the reading session!”.

We have seen first-hand how reading can inspire. Books expose children to new ways of thinking and introduce them to new worlds through stories filled with fantasy, history, adventure, or comedy. After all, everyone remembers their favorite childhood book! This goes to show how words on a page can transcend and impact us for our entire lives. Fostering a love of reading is not only important in improving educational and economic outcomes, but it is also a portal to creativity and imagination!

We believe every child deserves to develop the skills necessary to succeed and have a bright future. Through these initiatives, United Way of San Diego County can affect the deep-rooted systemic issues that exist in our community. You can help foster a love for reading by supporting United Way of San Diego County’s literacy initiatives. By donating to the Read Across America Book Drive, you are supporting literacy development that provides students with the resources they need to succeed academically and beyond!