Reading Up

Helping kids learn to read will give Santa Fe a better-educated workforce

The person: Allegra Love earned her law degree after getting a few years of teaching under her belt. Despite her qualifications, she returned to teaching and is now a sixth-grade teacher at Agua Fria Elementary, where she sees firsthand how desperately many Santa Fe kids need educational interventions in order to make the city an attractive place for professionals to move—and to make sure the youngsters who will make up Santa Fe’s future workforce are up to the job.

The plan: Ignite reading-buddy fever across the city by marshaling several thousand volunteers to read with struggling kids on a weekly basis. “That’s one of the easiest and most important things that needs to happen,” Love says.

How it works: Volunteers would be matched up with kids whose poor reading skills evidence a lack of parental involvement. 

"I would maybe put a challenge out to business professionals in this town—young professionals, old professionals—to see if they can give back to their community in a way," Love says.

Love would harness Santa Feans' desire to "advertise" their civic-mindedness by involving businesses, offering the carrot that they could tout their good works and influence others to do the same.

"Shopping locally has become this brand that shows a business is worthy to send your money to—if they source their food locally," Love notes. "We could establish a system so you walk into a business and they have a sign: 'We volunteer in Santa Fe Public Schools.'"

If more kids could read at grade level (as a sixth-grade teacher, Love sees kids with reading abilities that range from kindergarten to seventh-grade levels), test scores would improve—which, in turn, would help the district's reputation. Right now, people in the community routinely blame teachers for the poor scores, prompting parents to put their kids in private school if they can, or to move to a district with a better reputation, like Rio Rancho.

"There are a ton of affluent people in Santa Fe, a ton of people who have time and extra money, a ton of people who are intelligent," Love says. "You could pick up the phone and call a school site and say, 'Is there a kid I can be reading buddy to?'"

If Santa Feans saw up close and personal just how far behind some kids are, and how strapped the district is for materials, they would be “really horrified,” Love says—and motivated to help. “They wouldn’t be comfortable with what they saw,” she says.

Bottom line: Almost everything kids learn in school builds on reading, so a third-grader, let alone a sixth-grader, who hasn’t mastered that skill will only continue to fall further behind without assistance. As daunting as the test scores suggest the problem is, reading to kids is an easy way to help, Love says. 

"Just come in one day a week. Just read to a kid," Love says. "It's so important."

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