To Boost Early Literacy, It Takes a Village


Children point to a book as the teacher reads

To Boost Early Literacy, It Takes a Village

Read By 4th highlighted at national grade-level reading conference this week

More than half of Philadelphia children (58%) entering fourth grade at District, charter, and parochial schools are unable to read at grade level. With 80,000 PreK-3rd grade students citywide, there is no debating the gravity of our challenge to dramatically increase the number of students who enter 4th grade equipped with the reading skills to master new subjects and complex topics in the years ahead.  And it’s not just success in elementary school that we’re after. Reading on grade-level by the end of third grade is a strong predictor of later academic success and high school graduation.

If we want students to achieve high school graduation and post-secondary success, then reading on grade-level by 4th grade must be a priority. William Penn Foundation has pursued high-quality education for Philadelphia students for nearly 75 years. Guided by research, community input, and experience, our Great Learning funding strategy has crystallized around the importance and effectiveness of early learning and grade-level reading.

Under the stewardship of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Read By 4th campaign has been the citywide catalyst for increased attention to and investment in our youngest learners since 2015. Read by 4th now has 130 partners aligned in this effort. As an early funder of Read by 4th, we share the campaign’s belief that schools, families, and communities must work together to improve outcomes for all.



We support the campaign’s robust and collaborative efforts to increase the number of children in high-quality early childhood programs,  improve classroom instruction, engage families in early learning, and provide access to literacy-rich environments in neighborhoods across Philadelphia.

This summer alone, Read By 4th partners are implementing many programs and activities to keep the focus on literacy and language development while school is out. To name just a few:

  • 100 summer camps are incorporating approximately one hour per day of literacy-rich activities into their programming.
  • For the fourth summer in a row, all new K-3rd grade teachers in the School District of Philadelphia attended a highly successful week-long early literacy summer institute.   
  • Crates of children’s books are appearing across the city at 650 highly frequented locations, such as barber shops and laundromats, so kids and parents can read together while they wait.
  • Barbers and salon owners are being recruited as Reading Captains, volunteers who are committed to sharing literacy resources with parents and caregivers to support children’s reading. 
  • Grocery stores will display engaging signs with activity prompts for games adults can play with their children while they shop; turning an everyday shopping trip into a learning moment for children.
  • Newly opened climbing and play structures in three neighborhood libraries connect the dots between play and learning, an important resource for children during the summer.


This work, and much more, will be highlighted for a national audience this week as we welcome leaders of early literacy from across the country to Philadelphia for GLR Week, the conference of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. William Penn Foundation is pleased to support GLR Week, featuring Philadelphia and its Read by 4th campaign on a national stage. I am honored to serve as Chair of the conference’s host committee, which is composed of many of the leaders supporting this citywide effort. We look forward to learning from the grade-level reading efforts in other cities as well as elevating the important work happening in Philadelphia.

Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

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