Monday, August 31, 2009

More Facts about Literacy

Most people involved in DC policy and advocacy know Susie Cambria (link is to her Twitter profile).  I will say on a personal note that I admire Susie and want to be her when I grow up.
Susie has a local-focus budget and policy blog.  This morning, she posted some facts about literacy in the DC area: Poor literacy affects 1 in 5 DC residents. You should definitely hop over and read the post; she links to a video of a C-Span segment (disclosure: I have not watched the video myself yet) and other information about literacy.
The title of her post comes from the the statistic that 1 in 5 adult residents of DC lack basic prose literacy skills.  As an aside, I am glad that poetry literacy is not included in "basic literacy," or I would have to be considered illiterate, much to the dismay of my aunt. However, in all seriousness, Susie's title understates the effect of poor literacy skills.  Poor literacy affects not just the adult, but the members of his or her family.  A parent with poor literacy is unable to help his or her child with homework, to read to the child, even perhaps to budget or read a cookbook to make healthy meals.  A parent with poor literacy is likely to be unemployed or underemployed, with the family living in poverty.  All these affect the children in the home, other family members who might need to take the children--or the entire family--in, and the community as a whole.
So while 1 in 5 adult residents may have poor literacy skills, poor literacy affects us all.


Literacy Volunteer Opportunity

The District of Columbia Public Library is seeking volunteers for its upcoming book sale.  Volunteers are needed to help set up (September 5, 7-10) and to help during the sale (September 11-12).  The web site indicates that it is necessary to apply if you are interested in volunteering.

Washington Literacy Council

My friend Drew recommended that I highlight Washington Literacy Council in this space.  Drew used to serve as their general counsel, and other friends of mine have volunteered as tutors through WLC.  
Washington Literacy Council offers a variety of programs for adult learners, each based on research and best practices.  Tutors receive training before being paired with students.  The WLC is expanding its outreach to young adults age 18-30 in order to have secondary impact on their children's school achievement.  And what strikes me the most is their Family Literacy Workshops.  These workshops help parents, many of whom did not have a strong background of reading at home with their own parents, to know how to build their children's early reading skills.  The workshops meet at schools with parents and their children to learn techniques and read together.  
If you'd like to contribute to the Washington Literacy Council to support the Family Literacy Workshops and other programs, you can do so here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Everybody Wins! A National Literacy Organization

Everybody Wins! is a school-age literacy organization that has been getting a lot of press recently because Senator Kennedy volunteered regularly through Everybody Wins! DC.  It was on my radar anyway, and I learned just last night that the national organization is in the middle of a fundraising auction. The auction runs only through September 2, so check it out and make your bids soon!
Why should you support Everybody Wins?  I suppose it wouldn't be too compelling if I told you merely that their website features an adorable kid.  Instead, I will tell you that Everybody Wins is addressing the literacy gap between low-income and high-income communities, one mentor, one child, one book at a time.  The first statistic included in the literacy gap article is shocking and highlights the need for programs like Everybody Wins: "In the US, the typical middle-class child enters first grade with 1,000-1,700 hours of picture book reading time; a low-income child averages just 25." (Adams, M. (1990.) Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.)
Where will the money from this auction go?  This auction supports the national organization, which in turn supports local affiliates and the Power Lunch program.
If you cannot participate in the auction but would like to make a financial contribution, you may do so here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Book Drive, part 2

Exciting news, here in Book Drive land.  Yesterday evening when I got home from work, I was pleased (and, to be honest, a little bit surprised) to find that there were already donations in the book drive box.  But today when I got home--the box was FULL and there was an entire other box of videos.  Wow.  Books for America will be quite pleased.
If you know where I live, feel free to stop by with contributions. 

Ted Kennedy

It seems that there is an obligation, whether a moral obligation or just through peer pressure, to dedicate a blog post to Ted Kennedy in the wake of his death the other day.  This is not intended to be a political blog, though I'm sure my biases will show through frequently, so I will not praise Senator Kennedy here for being the "Liberal Lion" or champion of health care reform. (For what it's worth, I do not believe that health care reform itself is a desire limited to liberals.  It is the details, not the goal, that inspire political acrimony. 
However, to the extent that "health care reform" has become a buzzword for the goal of a nationalized--to whatever degree-system, I will be avoiding the subject here.)
Senator Kennedy stated in 1985 that "The presidency is not my life; public service is."  His actions echoed these words.  As reported by Richard Lacayo on the time of his death on Aug. 25 in Hyannis Port at the age of 77, [Senator Kennedy] had 46 working years in Congress, time enough to leave his imprint on everything from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, a law that expands support for national community-service programs. Over the years, Kennedy was a force behind the Freedom of Information Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He helped Soviet dissidents and fought apartheid. Above all, he conducted a four-decade crusade for universal health coverage, a poignant one toward the end as the country watched a struggle with a brain tumor. But along the way, he vastly expanded the network of neighborhood clinics, virtually invented the COBRA system for portable insurance and helped create the laws that provide Medicare prescriptions and family leave.
Here in Washington, he regularly read to students at Brent Elementary School through Everybody Wins! DC. 
May we learn from his example and may his memory be for blessing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Reading Really Fundamental? September 29

(UPDATED: Note that I am aware that there are weird font things going on here. I'll try to fix it and avoid similar issues in the future.)

From Ben Merrion at the District of Columbia Public Library: 
The Adult Literacy Resource Center at the DC Public Library in partnership with DC LEARNs will be hosting an FYI on Adult Literacy: “Is Reading Really Fundamental? How Adult Literacy Is Related to Different Social Issues” on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 from 6:30 - 8:30 pm at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW  in the Great Hall.  Find out how adult literacy is connected to issues such as unemployment, poverty and health care.

Become engaged: interact with adult learners, providers and advocates; find out how adult literacy matters to you and DC; volunteer for an adult literacy program; and connect to the adult literacy blog. The featured speaker will be Talmadge Guy, author of Providing Culturally Relevant Adult Education: A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century.  
Please RSVP by September 20:  You can email: or call (202) 727-2431. You can also sign up on Idealist or Facebook.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Drive

I very well might have the best landlord (well, building manager) on the planet.  Really.  Granted, I have some strange landlords to compare him to: the elderly man who lived below me my first year of law school who reasonably required us to be quiet after 10 pm who nevertheless banged on the ceiling with a broomstick one Sunday afternoon at 4; the bizarre man who lived above me my second year of law school who insisted on renovating our one bathroom while there were three of us living in the apartment (and took away the 3rd floor residents' parking space and laundry access in retaliation for refusing to all him to renovate their bathroom--we at least successfully withheld rent for the 23 days we didn't have a shower); and others.

But my current landlord has been more than gracious with making substantial repairs to my unit as a result of various inspections required as part of the process of being licensed as a foster parent (more to come on that issue when I highlight Child Welfare as a monthly cause). 

And despite the trouble I have therefore subjected him to, he still likes me.

What's the point?  I emailed him to ask if I could hold a book drive in our building.  His response warmed my heart: "YES YES YES! VERY COOL! When?"  He is printing notices to put in each unit's mailbox; I will provide a box.

The books will be donated to Books for America.  If you know me personally and would like to drop off a contribution, you should feel free to do so.

Books for America

I buy my books at Books for America, a used book store in my neighborhood.  Books for America collects used books and then re-sells them, with the proceeds going to literacy efforts.  Any children's books that they receive are donated directly to libraries, schools, and after-school programs serving low-income kids. Other books are donated to adult programs, such as shelters, adult education programs, and prisons.

I hope that by the end of my month (and a half) highlighting literacy, Books for America will be your favorite bookstore.  This post is just a teaser for better posts to come.

How to support Books for America:
  • When shopping at, enter through the Books for America site.  Books for America will receive up to 15% of your purchase.
  • Donate books at their store (22nd and P Streets, NW, in Washington) or warehouse (in Fairfax).
  • Host a book drive at your office.
Do you have a story to share about the friendly folks or great selection at Books for America?  Leave it in the comments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This Month's Cause: Literacy

In honor of the start of the school year, I've decided to highlight literacy this month (and through the end of September).

Literacy, the ability to read and write, is critical to finding and keeping a job, to maintaining one's home, to staying healthy, and to raising educated children. Low literacy levels correlate with high poverty, as poverty traps families in a cycle of stressors that interfere with successes, and low literacy prevents families from raising themselves out of poverty.

In the District of Columbia, the facts are pretty dire.  Although data are not recent, various compilations of statistics found online point to a rate of functional illiteracy that is higher than one-third of the population.  Public school outcomes on standardized tests, though improving, still show dismal rates of proficiency.  The District of Columbia Public Schools touted their impressive gains in this press release, which nevertheless admits the truth that fewer than half of all DCPS students are proficient in reading.  (NB: I have selected DCPS students to comment on simply due to the ease of finding consolidated data.  This is neither to overlook nor to imply any comment on charter schools or their students' performance.  For specific school scores on District of Columbia standardized testing, you may refer to the NCLB Data Reports site.) 

The good news, however, is that there are many, many individuals and organizations committed to helping District residents to improve their literacy skills.  Throughout this month, I will introduce you to some of these organizations. 

As always, if you have an organization that you would like to be promoted this month (whether in DC or elsewhere), an individual who is doing good work in the area of literacy, or if you would like to guest blog, please comment or send me an email.

The People Have Spoken

All eight of you.

The votes are overwhelmingly, after just 12 hours, in favor of highlighting one theme per month.  Within that construct, I will do a variety of things: educate about the issue; introduce local (DC),  national, and global (as appropriate) organizations working on that issue; suggest ways to support relevant organizations, perhaps singling one organization out for special attention; solicit donations on occasion; or others.

The themes I select will be, to the greatest extent possible, neither political nor controversial.  Of course, my definition of "controversial" might not be the reader's.  So, for example, two hot-button issues about which I have strong opinions and care deeply will not get any (or much) metaphorical ink because they are clearly controversial--I leave you to consider what they might be--while an organization based in Israel might be politically neutral yet engender strong negative opinions from some corners based simply on the fact of its location.  I do not consider the latter to be political or controversial.  I offer that as an example to illustrate the criteria (unformulated) that I will be using to decide whether a theme or organization is acceptable to write about in this space.

I have heard from one friend already that she has two issues or organizations that she would like to recommend to me.  I encourage all of you to do to the same.  You may do so here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Looking for a Gimmick

Earlier today, I read this article in the New Yorker.  Despite its possibly disparaging attitude towards what it calls "gimmicks," it prodded me to follow through on my half-formed ideas for this blog.

During the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar, the month leading up to the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (day of atonement), it is traditional to take stock of the previous year--ones failings, in particular, but also one's strengths and successes, and one's interactions with others.  This then ushers in the ten-day period encompassing the two high holidays, during which we rely on the strength of our repentance, our prayer, and our acts of charity to secure a good decree for us and our loved ones.

This first week of Elul, then, is an auspicious time for this blog to have its beginnings.

I envision this blog supporting worthwhile causes--whether through financial contributions or exposure and education is a decision yet to be made.  Please help me focus this blog by responding to the poll on the sidebar.  Should I:
  • select a theme each month and highlight organizations that support that theme
  • select an organization each month and collect donations from readers
  • select an organization each month and an activity to solicit pledges (for example, if the organization were a literacy organization, I could do a "read-a-thon" that month, and get pledges for a contribution per book read)
  • something else? I had 19 or so ideas as I was composing this in my head, but have forgotten all but these three.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Literacy Resources (in development)

District of Columbia
Books for America
DC LEARNs (clearinghouse for DC adult literacy programs)
Washington Literacy Council

Everybody Wins!
National Institute for Literacy (a federal agency)
Literacy Directory (search for literacy programs)


My Friends are Passionate About...

Kat is passionate about the AAUW 
Sheryl is passionate about disability awareness and Bloom's Connect
Evonne is passionate about Judaism and the environment: Canfei Nesharim 
Jasleen is passionate about Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy 
Shmuly is passionate about Uri l'Tzedek and the Tav ha-Yosher