The statistics can be scary and staggering. 80% of our children growing up in low-income households are unable to read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade. 60% of children in the United States are testing “not ready for Kindergarten.” Research shows that 2/3 of children who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up incarcerated or on public assistance. These statistics are prompting people from all sectors to re-examine how our communities are working with children and families to ensure their future success.
The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading encourages entire communities to come together to make a plan to increase the number of children able to read on grade level by the end of third grade. These plans are called Community Solutions Action Plans (CSAPs). Individuals, businesses, government, nonprofits, and the media all have important parts to play in the CSAP for the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a four-county initiative in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties.
By working together, addressing literacy in both traditional and non-traditional ways, sharing information and resources, and aligning aspirations, we can do more together than any of us could do individually. A great example of the non-traditional community approach to literacy is occurring in numerous businesses throughout the county in locations that may surprise you, laundromats.
What might seem a bit strange at first mention, makes perfect sense upon further reflection.
Parents and children often spend 2–3 hours each week in laundromats. There is quite a bit of lag-time as they wait for clothes to go through the wash and dry cycles and even more time spent folding the clothes. Two years ago, Jane Park Woo and Patti Miller of Too Small to Fail, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, a leading public awareness and action campaign to promote the importance of early brain and language development and to empower parents with tools to talk, read, and sing with their young children from birth, pondered how laundromats might be convinced to dedicate space to literacy. It turns out, it didn’t take much convincing. It was quickly apparent that adding a literacy element in the laundromats was good for business. They connected with Brian Wallace, president and CEO of the Coin Laundry Association, and Adam Echelman of Libraries without Borders, and together they started to introduce literacy materials and programming into laundromats.
The positive results for laundromat owners, parents, and children were immediately evident and have led to a #LaundryLiteracy Movement. On March 19–20, 2019, a national conference was held in Chicago. Brian described the #LaundryLiteracy Movement as laundromats “Doing well, by doing good.” More than 100 participants from the coin laundry industry, public libraries, book distributors, early-learning specialists, community organizations, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Too Small to Fail, and numerous other organizations gathered to learn about and share innovations in #LaundryLiteracy and develop common aspirations for future growth. Chelsea Clinton, of the Clinton Foundation, delivered the keynote address, cut the ribbon of a new literacy center in a laundromat in Chicago, and took the time to read to an eager audience of youngsters.
The energy and excitement generated by this group of passionaries were electric and contagious as more and more ideas and opportunities for collaboration were shared.