Reading Their Fortunes: Improving the Reading Levels of Elementary School Students

Aug. 23, 2012 / By

The Long Beach Public Library Foundation (PLF) is on a mission to dramatically improve the reading levels of primary school-aged children in Long Beach by the year 2020.

After working with the school district to gather statistics on the reading levels of children in Long Beach, the PLF submitted a proposed plan of improvement to a national collaborative that seeks to improve reading levels.

Only 15 percent of Long Beach students read at or above grade level in kindergarten, according to the statistics the PLF reported in its proposal. They argue that the numbers in low-income communities are even lower.

PLF President Elect Joseph Prevratil

The proposal was accepted by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Communities Network (GLRCN), a collaborative of foundations and non-profit partners focused on “closing the gap in reading achievement separating low-income students from their peers.” The improvement plan for Long Beach will also include efforts to reduce truancy and retention rates.

In 2010, Long Beach held one of the highest truancy rates at a staggering 49 percent, compared to the county’s rate of 29 percent, according to the School Attendance Task Force.

VoiceWaves spoke with PLF President Elect Joseph Prevratil about some specifics of the Community Solution Action Plan (CSAP) and the PLF’s role in community engagement.

“We are spearheading the effort of community engagement, but it’s going to take the whole community’s help to do the work of implementation,” Prevratil said.

The next step in the process is to hire a program manager and begin seeking out funding, which will begin in September. The multimedia piece that accompanies this article goes into detail about the proposed improvements to reading-level percentages in Long Beach.

“It’s been a successful garnering of support,” Prevratil said. “I don’t think there’s anyone that is interested in education in this city who isn’t somehow involved.”

That community participation, according to Prevratil, will be important because budget constraints may mean volunteers would be providing services directly to students to improve those reading levels.

“The school district doesn’t have extra people, nor does the police department with their budget,” Prevratil said. “Our own foundation only has three full-time employees.”

In an article published last month, GLRCN spokesperson Phyllis Jordan told the Gazette about the significance of third-grade-reading-level as an indicator of students potential for success in the classroom.

“Third grade is a marker,” Jordan said. “If you don’t hit the mark, kids are four times more likely to drop out of school.”

The language barrier is another factor that will play into the low reading-level scores in the community. In a city as diverse as Long Beach, many children live in households where English is the second language. These areas will likely need more specialized services to improve the reading levels of those multilingual students.

Francisco Vargas

Long Beach Public Library Youth Officer Francisco Vargas interacts with elementary school students, and is familiar with the circumstances surrounding the Long Beach reading deficiency. There is a direct correlation between how many words are in a child’s everyday vocabulary, and the rate at which they read, Vargas said. To some this may sound obvious, but he said the head-start of using more diverse vocabulary provides a child a much more promising academic career.

Vargas  also talked about the unique challenge of teaching a bilingual child to read.

“For first generation immigrants, the language barrier can frustrate the parents,” said Vargas, who believes this is why minority children often fare worse on early reading-level assessments. “As time goes on, multilingual children actually do better with reading comprehension, because their brain processes and understands language in a different way.”

Vargas encourages Long Beach parents to share books with their children the way he shared bilingual books with his grandmother.

“If you don’t know how to read English, just follow the pictures because you have to enjoy reading with your children,” Vargas said. “We don’t want you to create a classroom in your home.” The desire to read is equally as important as the science of language, and although instilling that in children while they are young is important, it’s never too late to start, believes Vargas, who didn’t read his first book from cover to cover until he was in college, yet today is a librarian.

Vargas and Centro CHA feature reading-improvement games and activities at the Summer Night Lights program through the end of August at various Long Beach parks from 6-9p.m. For more information visit, or for a list of story-times in Long Beach to read with your children visit here.

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Patrick Moreno

Patrick Moreno is a graduate of the CSULB department of journalism. He wrote for the Daily 49er and spent more than a year with VoiceWaves reporting on the diverse communities of Long Beach. Originally from Ventura California, Moreno studied photography for 5 years before transferring to CSULB to work on his writing. At the heart of his work is Moreno's love for culture and the arts, but it is through factual and fair reporting that he hopes to transform his community into a place where people can express themselves and continue to thrive. Patrick is also a musician, artist and photographer, beach bum, and capoerista!