NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Although three out of four third-graders in Nashville are not reading on grade level, the number was even higher for students of color. For young men of color, in particular, the United Way of Greater Nashville said that number was closer to eight out of ten.
“You spend almost 13-14 years in a public education system, if you can’t read you can’t participate in the education system as it stands today whether you’re in person or you’re virtual. So those numbers have real meaning behind them. They have real people behind them.” said Ashford Hughes, Sr., Metro Nashville Public Schools Executive Officer for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “I think we need to look at the statistics and the numbers but look at the Jimmy, the John, the Carltons behind those numbers to really see what are we doing to address their immediate needs right now.”
He said multiple factors led to these literacy rates for years, and the pandemic only highlighted some of the inequities that already existed regarding literacy in Nashville.
MNPS is working to improve student reading through the new Literacy Reimagined Initiative in the 2021-2022 school year.
“If we’re being honest I think this initiative is addressing ‘all.’ But when we look at these factors when we talk about equity, we need to disaggregate the data and the information so while we are addressing all students, the disproportionality exists along lines of race. And within that we also see many students of color that have dyslexia so that’s another form of an inequitable opportunity that we are seeking to address,” Hughes said, adding that the district needs to look at students individually to address their specific needs.
United Way is one of the partners spearheading the Books Brothers Initiative along with the Nashville Public Library, the local My Brother’s Keeper organization, Juvenile Court Clerk Lonnell Matthews, and the school district. It just started this school year to bring men of color into the effort of promoting literacy. These men are volunteers serving as reading role models through video storytimes that focus on books that allow students of color to see themselves in the pages.
“I continue to go back to addressing root cause issues in the community affecting the opportunity gaps and the achievement gaps we see with young black and brown boys within this city,” Hughes said. “This was a chance to say ‘we want to model the behavior that we want our kids to be engaged in.”
Hughes said students need rigorous curriculum that’s also inclusive so that they’re not being set up for failure during their years in the school system.
“We can’t ignore the fact that unfortunately, oftentimes race has played a factor in whether student success or failure exists within our school buildings,” Hughes said. “We all know about the disproportionality in discipline but when it comes to disproportionality along the lines of young Black boys, young LatinX boys, young Black girls, we know that literacy and that disproportionality is high at the point right now where we aren’t allowing the opportunity for these students succeed. This initiative is about fixing injustice, not about fixing kids.”
The Books Brothers Initiative is actively seeking volunteers and Hughes said they hoped to expand it to serve young girls as well. CLICK HERE to get involved.