Metro’s new director of schools, Shawn Joseph, has made it clear that raising childhood literacy rates will be front and center in his administration.

Mayor Megan Barry has been in lockstep with Joseph on the issue, and PENCIL was honored when chosen to be a part of the literacy collaborative that the mayor created last December to address the problem.

The literacy collaborative is a mix of city leaders and other nonprofits, like the Nashville Public Library and the Nashville Public Education Foundation, tasked with creating a birth-to-third-grade literacy initiative.

It has been well-documented that children who aren’t reading at grade-level by the third grade are four times more likely not to graduate high school, and 13 times more likely if they live in poverty.

While creating and implementing effective policy is crucial in tackling the problem, it takes time. Many children need help now, and it’s up to us as a community to lift a hand today.

At PENCIL, we work with struggling readers every day through our Reading Partners program, a volunteer-driven program that places more than 800 PENCIL partners in schools throughout our city.

The people participating in PENCIL’S Reading Partners program have made the choice to be personally involved in Nashville’s push to raise our childhood literacy rates. These community volunteers sit down one-on-one with struggling readers in MNPS Reading Clinics for just 30 minutes a week for at least eight weeks – though most continue working with children far beyond this time period.

Primary students, up to third grade, who participate in a minimum of 30 lessons in MNPS Reading Clinics average a gain of two or more text levels. Students reading text with more complex concepts, content and vocabulary average a gain of two or more text levels in 36 lessons.

Watching a child unlock their world through literacy is a truly powerful thing. I can speak to this from my own time as a reading partner. To be a part of the transformation of a struggling reader into a proficient one is life-changing and something everyone should experience.

We are doubling down on our efforts in 2017. We recently hired two coordinators whose sole focus is to enhance the program and recruit and train the best volunteers possible for two schools chosen by Metro, Churchwell and Buena Vista Elementary schools, that are especially in need.

More than half of MNPS students are below their grade level in reading comprehension. If you want to be hands-on in the fight to raise childhood literacy rates, there is no better way than becoming one of our reading partners today.

While there is much work to be done to continue to make Nashville the greatest public school system in the country, with your help, there is no reason to think we can’t be just that.

Angie Adams is the president and CEO of PENCIL.

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