Dubuque organizations help students catch up on reading proficiency after disruptive year of learning

Dubuque organizations are addressing reading proficiency gaps by making books more accessible and relatable to the children of Dubuque.
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 4:44 AM CST
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - The more practice one gets at reading, the better. With students facing academic setbacks because of the pandemic, different groups in Dubuque are focusing on building a strong literacy foundation.

“Third grade is a milestone where kids stop learning to read, and they start reading to learn,” Cynthia Wehrenberg, youth impact coordinator with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque (CFGD), said. “And so it is important to create those really good habits early on so that they can go on to become productive members of society.”

Wehrenberg recognized, though, reaching that milestone has been a challenge for many children because of the interruptions in learning the past two school years. Dubuque Community School District officials tell TV9 that, according to the FAST assessment, 64 percent of third-graders were at benchmark in fall of 2019 while only 58 percent were at benchmark as of fall of 2021.

Now the CFGD’s Every Child Reads initiative is putting out a book kids can read with their families to address this issue. The book, called Be A Healthy You! In Dubuque, promotes positive child development while encouraging families to read together.

“This book not only has the message in it about helping reach the literacy and the learning component of it, but it also helps us get books into the hands of kids, which helps build in-home libraries,” Wehrenberg, who co-wrote the book with Julie Homb and Abigail Degenhardt, explained. “And with the pandemic and everything that has been going on this last year, that has been really hard for kids in our community to be able to have access to books.”

That book is now making its way to the hands of children across Dubuque. Aside from handing out more than 900 free copies to all kindergarteners in the Dubuque and Holy Family school districts, staff at Carnegie-Stout Public Library are passing the book as part of the new Reading Buddies initiative, where children under age ten can get a friend to read to.

“I think the pandemic has made everybody really receptive to receiving kits that they can sort of do on their own time when they feel comfortable and, of course, having a little beanie baby to incentivize them to come pick it up has been really fun, Bailey Keimig-Gehrke, youth services library aid, mentioned.

The kit, meant to celebrate National Family Literacy Month, comes with a stuffed animal, the free book, and literacy information for parents. Keimig-Gehrke said they decided to put the kits together to encourage parents to have a more active and fun role in their children’s reading.

“The pandemic has definitely sort of forced families to maybe take a bigger role in their children’s learning, and this is sort of a way to make that maybe compulsive participation a little more fun for families,” she added.

Be A Healthy You! In Dubuque is available for purchase at River Lights Bookstore in downtown Dubuque or through Kendall Hunt Publishing’s website.

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