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National Relief Charities' Fundraiser:

Literacy on American Indian reservations

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November 17, 2011

By age 3, children in low-income homes will have heard 1/3 as many words as children in middle-income homes (10 million vs. 30 million).  See more

BENEFITING: National Relief Charities

EVENT DATE: Nov 11, 2011



Learning to read for a variety of purposes is essential to success in school and to learning in general. We all know how exciting it is to open a book from the library or bookstore and dive into a new world or adventure. For thousands of Native children who live on rural and isolated reservations, reading is often filled with reluctance because they don’t have access to books outside of school.  Because of a lack of exposure to books, many children are not proficient enough reader to really enjoy reading for pleasure.
The achievement gap in reading is profound – children of color and/or from low-income households fail to reach grade level reading abilities by 3rd grade because, quite simply, they are already behind when they start kindergarten. There is a striking disparity in access to books at home between children of middle- and low-income households: the average middle-income home has 54 age-appropriate books for children, while a low-income home as 0-2. To address the achievement gap, National Relief Charities (NRC):
• Provides a variety of books
• Offers an incentive program to encourage reading for children and reading buddies
A popular saying among educators is, “Until 3rd grade, a child learns to read. After 3rd grade a child reads to learn.” In pre-school and the first few years of school, the aim is to teach children to read. After 3rd grade, the aim is for children to use their reading comprehension skills to learn new material. Why is early childhood literacy, especially reading at grade level by 3rd grade, so important? Research shows that reading abilities in 3rd grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success since children who read at grade level are more likely to graduate from high school, pursue a college degree, and find gainful employment.
In 2005, only 31% of children entering 4th grade read at a “proficient” or better level. The gap between racial/ethnic groups is wide – while 41% of White and 42% of Asian-American 4th graders score at or above the “proficient” level, only 18% of American Indian 4th graders do. This gap is associated with socioeconomic status and parental involvement with reading:
• A child from a middle-income family typically enters 1st grade with about 1,000 hours of one-on-one picture book reading time with parents or other relatives compared with a child from a low-income family, who averages less than 100 hours.
• 1st graders from lower-income families have a vocabulary half the size of children from higher-income families.
• By age 3, children in low-income homes will have heard 1/3 as many words as children in middle and high-income homes (10 million vs. 30 million words).
Gaps such as these are difficult to close by the time a child completes 3rd grade, making literacy programs that target children early all that more important. Children who enter kindergarten with poor early literacy skills tend to be poor readers in 1st grade and even into high school. 10 -15% of children with serious reading problems will drop out of high school, and about half of youth with criminal records or with a history of substance abuse have reading problems.

Less obvious, is the importance of reading in socialization. A child who goes to school every day, unable to read, will experience self-esteem problems. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others. If a child can’t read, but everyone else around him can, he will begin to see himself as less adequate. Furthermore, a child who struggles with reading often develops a poor attitude about school.

Early literacy skills do not emerge spontaneously, but require time and practice. Parents have the greatest influence over their children. But, when access to a variety of reading materials on the reservation is lacking, what is a parent to do?

The importance of reading. Early literacy skills encompass a child’s:
• Vocabulary
• Print awareness
• Knowledge of the alphabet
• Awareness of the sounds that letters make and the ability to connect sounds with letters
• Written expression
• Motivation to read and interest in stories
In addition to helping young children develop reading literacy, consider the many benefits that reading buddies reap (teens and adults) from reading regularly:

• Reading develops creative thinking skills. Unlike movies where everything is determined by the producer, writer and director, books allow the reader to create in their minds how a character looks like or imagine how a scene plays out.
• Reading can improve a person’s ability to comprehend concepts and ideas.
• Reading develops critical thinking.
• Fluency in a language and in communication skills are improved by reading.
• Reading introduces a person to new things and has the ability to broaden their interests.
• Reading regularly increases the vocabulary.
• According to studies, reading increases a student’s ability to concentrate.
• Developing a person’s reading and comprehension skills prepares them for the “real world.” Being able to read means that they will have little or no problem understanding manuals, guides or contracts - vital documents and papers everyone encounters when they join the work force.
• Spelling improves when words are seen in print.
• Reading also improves a person’s writing skills as they are exposed to a variety of writing styles.
• Reading exposes children to new ideas, places and people that they would not otherwise know about because of their geographic isolation and limited ability to have new experiences due to their environment and poverty.
The fact that students can reap great benefits from reading cannot be doubted or questioned. It is for this reason that we want to instill in students a real love for reading and groom them into becoming lifelong readers and learners.


NRC’s Literacy Program not only helps those to read by 3rd grade, it also teams up young children with reading buddies and offers reward incentives to help encourage reading. NRC collaborates with more than 35 Partner Agencies on 20 reservations in the Northern Plains who support literacy.
Goal:  Increase the number of partner agencies involved in the NRC literacy service by 10%
• Objective: Outreach the literacy opportunity to Tribal Boy’s and Girl’s Club programs and elderly nutrition centers on all Plains priority reservations
• Objective:  Seek 2 referrals from each existing Literacy partner agency for other agencies that may be interested in hosting the service
Goal:  Improve the amount and variety of literature participating agencies offer children
• Objective: Assess the existing stock of books available at existing Literacy partner agencies
• Objective: Assess the existing stock of books at any potential partner agency when outreaching the service
• Objective: Determine what types of books are needed to provide a fully rounded library of titles based on reading level and genre
• Objective: Determine high quality, contemporary Native American literature titles that would be motivating for children to read
• Objective: Seek low cost options for purchasing books needed to round out the collections at partner agencies and ensure we have the right stock to stock and replenish collections at partner agencies
• Objective: Incorporate culturally relevant reading materials in the collections of all partner agencies
Goal:  Increase the participation among and interaction between children and reading buddies
• Objective: Encourage special events that encourage children and adults to gather for the purpose of learning about the service and celebrate reading
• Objective: Provide educational flyers to parents and guardians about the long term benefits of reading proficiency and exposure to literature
• Objective: Offer high quality incentives to readers and buddies
• Objective: Ensure interesting and adequate numbers of books

Goal:  Improve the reading levels of children in remote reservation communities
• Objective: Outreach the Literacy service opportunity to schools without adequate reading materials
• Objective: Determine the reading scores of children prior to involvement in the service
• Objective: Provide reading materials that round out the offerings at the school
• Objective: Provide special incentives when participants or schools achieve a positive a positive change in reading level
The Process. NRC is not a “dump and run” charity. We work closely with Program Partner Agencies to give them what they request, when they want it delivered, and in the quantities they request. Literacy Program Agencies trust us to deliver what is requested as the need arises.
• Partner Agencies make a request for books to set up or add to a library
• NRC ships 100 books per request
• Partner Agencies make a request for incentives to set up or add to a literacy reward closet
• NRC ships the items in the quantities requested
• Children read on their own or with a reading buddy to earn reward incentives
• Partner Agencies track the number of incentive points each reader and buddy earns
• Partner Agencies submit monthly reports to NRC on how many children were served
When a child reads a book on his own, he earns 10 incentive points. When a child reads a book with a buddy, both earn 10 incentive points. With the help of their reading buddy, the child must submit a reading verification form. The form is a kind of book report where the child draws a picture of their favorite character or of a scene from the book. Incentive points may be spent right away or may be saved to “purchase” more expensive, higher point value items. Incentive items for children may include, but are not limited to, toys, games, and clothing. Items for older youth and adults may include, but are not limited to, food, personal hygiene items, and household goods, such as laundry soap.
We often hear about the impact this service has on the children in our service area. In an April 2011 letter from an NRC Literacy Partner Agency, the Frazer Public School on the Fort Peck Indian reservation in Montana reported: 
Our reading incentive program has truly helped our students learn to value the skill of reading. Many of our youth take advantage of it and gain prizes from your donations. This encourages them to read more and improves their skills without them realizing what is actually occurring…In the 2009-10 school year, our elementary school made safe harbor for the first time in many years. We have more parents participating and sharing time with their children as they read together for prizes…Our incentive store is supplied by your organization and we have had more parent volunteers come in to work as they want some of the earnable items in the store…I am the Testing Coordinator for our CRT’s, which is the high stakes testing for the state. This is what determines if we make adequate yearly progress or safe harbor. Encouraging the students to do their best is an important component of this high stakes testing. NRC products allow us an incentive program to help increase the drive and ambition of our students.
In March 2011 alone, the kindergarten class had a balance of 11,050 incentive points to spend. The total balance earned in March for all readers and reading buddies in grades K-12 was over 368,000 incentive points. Some of the older children have put things on “layaway.” Others are saving to “purchase” items they can use when they graduate.                  


Number of participants served. In 2010, NRC served almost 6,300 Native children with books and incentives. We anticipate to serve approximately 6,600 children in 2011.


Number of participants served. In 2010, NRC served almost 6,300 Native children with books and incentives. We anticipate to serve approximately 6,600 children in 2011.


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