The first month of 2009 hasn’t been the greatest for our city. We started this year with a $2 billion budget gap and a threat to shut down a handful of public libraries, and the blows have worsened in light of a recent report, which shows that Philadelphia’s literacy rate is an embarrassingly low 22 percent.
That means, of the approximately 1.5 million people living in this city, only 318,919 are literate. But just like we have before, the city will bounce back. Thanks in part to City Year.
The 20-year-old nationwide organization and its members ranging from 17- to 24-years-old brings people together for different causes to improve their conditions of life. In Philadelphia this year, the City Year team is working with schools to improve students’ attendance, behavior and grades. The overall concept is to keep kids on the right track and help them increase their potential both in and out of school.
But what the City Year team may have not considered is that this is the perfect opportunity to increase Philadelphia’s literacy rate. The way to begin solving any large-scale social problem is to start with the younger generation and instill core values for them to pass along.
City Year Greater Philadelphia will use its young members to relate to high school students in order to improve their lives in and out of school. Reading is a great way to expand young people’s lives by increasing their vocabularies and broadening their views on life. Smart, open-minded young people are more likely to pursue higher education and less likely to stray into a life of drugs and crime.
With participation among Philadelphians high – up approximately 435 percent from last year – City Year’s initiatives are a step in the right direction to solving our city’s literacy problem.
An even bigger aid would be sending the City Year team to elementary and middle schools. The earlier kids develop proper reading habits and life skills, the better equipped they’ll be to move up in life and handle serious situations.
Arguments can and have been made that shutting down libraries at a time when literacy rates are so low is a poor decision. But what Mayor Michael Nutter sees as a crucial financial decision might also be a logical one. The people who use the city’s libraries aren’t the ones who have the literacy problem. Literacy doesn’t start with libraries, and they should not bear the sole responsibility of bolstering kids’ reading skills.
Literacy starts at a young age in the home, and it’s enforced in schools. The people of City Year should take advantage of that.