The Detroit Regional Chamber estimated that only 44 percent of third grade students in southeast Michigan were reading at grade level last year.
Literacy in Metro Detroit has been alarming industry leaders for a number of years now. When the Detroit Regional Chamber – a metropolitan non-profit dedicated to promote the economic health of the Motor City – published their 2017-2018 State of the Region report, their educational analysis on page 15 pointed out the growing number of degrees and skilled workers the region loves to tout as a major asset.
But at the bottom of the page, the report says, “To sustain Southeast Michigan as one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, our Talent Forward goal is to increase both third grade reading scores and adults with post-secondary degrees.”
That goal, by the way, is to increase the number of third graders with grade-level reading skills from the 44 percent the DRC’s Forward Detroit estimated in 2015-16, to 58 percent. But low reading scores in elementary school can of course lead to low scores in high school, which is where Ferndale High School Principal Lisa Williams and Literary Project Leader Stephanie Scobie come in.
The Ferndale Literacy Project is starting its second year of ensuring that every high school student in the district keeps up with their grade level of reading. Scobie is teaching 45 students this year.
Attendance gaps and undiagnosed reading problems, are often part of why some students fall behind their reading level, Williams says, adding “sometimes we’ve had kids that have been transient [or] moved from school to school.”
Ferndale’s advanced class puts them in the enhanced English program over the course of a semester. The class is mostly based on participation; although there are a number of quizzes and a final exam.
Some of the time she will work with a small group of students while the others are reading. She tries to work with students one on one, three times a week, to improve their fluency.
“We’ve seen good growth by her students,” Scobie says while some students made no growth last year due to attendance and other issues, “for the most part, kids made a mean of three-point-five grade levels growth throughout the year.”
Secondary benefits seen at the district include increased student confidence, increased interest in academics, higher GPA’s, students reading for fun at home, and more students passing more classes.
“I think that once a student can taste success, and it’s real to them, it builds up their confidence and it sparks an interest to aim higher and push further,” Williams said. “A lot of times the students that we have in the program haven’t been successful, for whatever reason. Once they can see [success] … they know they can work harder and go higher.”
While all participants in the program are from Ferndale High School, the program is available to every student in the county, through school of choice.
The project was founded by Jack and Annette Aronson, the husband and wife team that founded Garden Fresh Gourmet – a salsa, humus and ground stone tortilla chip making company based in Ferndale. After selling their company to Campbell’s for $231 million in 2015, they continued with their years of philanthropy with a specifically-focused program to improve the lives of youth.
They started by co-founding Beyond Basics – a program that has worked with Detroit Public Schools since 2002 to achieve many of the same goals. Jack is now the chairman of the board of that foundation. But is also putting up the money for founding the Ferndale Literacy Project, according to William Good, Ferndale Schools Director of Community Relations.
“Mr. and Mrs. Aronson have paid for 100 percent of everything in the program, including: teacher salary, new classroom furniture, classroom supplies, software licenses, etc.,” Good, told the Oakland County Times by email. “Everything comes from the generosity of the Aronson’s.”
However, donations of any size are being accepted on the project’s facebook page. Volunteer tutors are also needed.