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Philanthropy Focus – Boosting Literacy Skills for Children in Our Community

The Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation's continued partnership with Read Better Be Better and Make Way for Books.

For so many of us, reading is just another function of our day – as second nature as breathing. Yet while we effortlessly scan the morning’s news and sort through our emails, a growing number of Arizona’s young people are falling behind in literacy skills due to cracks in the very foundation of what it is to learn to read. As we already know, until the third-grade kids learn to read, after which they read to learn.  So, if we don’t intervene early, children in our community will grow up without the crucial reading skills required for long term academic success, let alone finding joy in their favorite novel.  

Children reading together

We know this challenge is prevalent across households and schools, but also that it disproportionately impacts low-income families and communities of color. According to 2022 Arizona English Language Arts assessments, among students who are economically disadvantaged only 27% scored proficient, and only 30% of Latino students passed compared to 56% of White students. These figures are unacceptable.  

The good news is that organizations like Read Better Be Better (RBBB) and Make Way for Books, which we support through The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation, are addressing these learning gaps with creative solutions targeted to uplift students in Title I schools and families experiencing poverty.  

Children sitting in classroom desks

RBBB’s innovative model connects elementary-aged “Readers” and middle school “Leaders” through twice-weekly after school sessions to foster strong literacy skills in the younger students, while growing leadership ability in middle schoolers. Make Way for Books takes a different, yet equally brilliant approach using a two-generation model. Young children (ages 0-5), early childhood educators, and parents learn together through weekly bilingual (English/Spanish) curriculum, building essential skills in children while adults gain confidence to support their children’s early development. As I only scratched the surface of what these exceptional organizations do, I encourage you to visit the links above to learn more about their work.  

The book The Secret Garden next to flowers

Thinking back, my favorite book as a young girl was The Secret Garden – it grew in me a sense of adventure, appreciation of nature’s beauty, and taught me about cultures different from my own. What a gift in retrospect, and who knows how that book and others shaped me into who I am today. Bob and I will continue to support organizations that build literacy skills at a young age, in hopes that all children will benefit from the gifts of not only reading but being lifelong learners.