Creating a Culture of Literacy in Kansas City

By Alex Krause, Turn the Page KC AmeriCorps VISTA

Around the Turn the Page KC office, we spend a great deal talking about creating a “culture of literacy” in Kansas City. We are always looking for new ways to stimulate the conversation on reading, books, and education.

We are far from the first group to talk about this culture. In 2010, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility released the article, Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations (PDF).

Researchers (M. Evans, J. Kelly, J. Sikora, D. Treiman), discuss the impact of raising children in homes with books and the influence of a “scholarly culture.” Their research indicates that regardless of parents’ education, occupation, or class, children who grow up in homes with many books receive 3 more years of schooling than their bookless counterparts.

According to the research, having books in the home is symptomatic of children living in a “scholarly culture,” which would enhance learning opportunities, vocabulary, and academic achievement. The home would be more likely to participate in reading activities such as talking about favorite books, acting out stories, and encouraging reading for pleasure. 

Our city’s students will be participating in the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) standardized tests beginning mid-April. In preparing for the MAP, Turn the Page KC has sought to support our educators, and the evidence is clear that access to books and reading at home is one of the primary preparatory tools for standardized testing. As the research states, “Books and reading are a concrete resource and indicate a cognitively complex way of life that enhances intellectual capacities in ways directly useful in school, improving performance.”

The average American household contains 112 books. The research shows the greatest impact in homes with 500 or more books. “The difference between a bookless home and one with a 500-book library is as great as the difference between having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) and having university educated parents (15 or 16 years of education).”

This year we are pushing to increase the amount of book resources we have available. Though we know not all families will have 500 books, every little bit helps. “Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to a home library helps the children get a little farther in school,” the study suggested.

How can you contribute to developing a “scholarly culture” and add more books to the homes of our children in Kansas City? We are looking for volunteers to distribute 20,000 books to children across the Kansas City Public School District the first week of May. We are also always taking book donations that will be donated to K-3 children throughout Kansas City, Missouri. More information will soon be announced on where our mobile book drives will be located.

As always, thank you for your support of Turn the Page KC’s literacy initiative. Together we can create a greater culture of literacy in Kansas City.

Alex Krause, AmeriCorps VISTA, Turn the Page KC

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