WORCESTER – Thousands of young children across the city will go “Quackers” on Thursday as City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, Jake the Lion from the Worcester Bravehearts and others volunteer for the largest Read for the Record event held in Worcester.
The event is part of the world’s largest shared reading experience, which brings together more than 2 million people each year in classrooms, libraries, community centers and homes across the U.S. It was launched more than a decade ago to highlight the importance of building early literacy and language skills for every child, so that all children have the opportunity to enter kindergarten prepared to succeed, explained Julie Fitzpatrick, city program and site manager for the Jumpstart program at Worcester State University that organizes the effort in Worcester.
All families are invited to join the fun, Ms. Fitzpatrick says, from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Worcester Public Library, and hear the city manager read “Quackers,” written by Liz Wong, and participate in activities that go along with the theme of the story. Additionally, volunteers from the United Way and other organizations volunteered to read to city children. And every child in Head Start, preschool or kindergarten in the Worcester public schools will receive a copy of “Quackers.” That’s about 4,000 books.
“This is our first year doing such a large-scale event in the city,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said. “We would love to see as many families as can be there. The first 100 families (at the library) will be able to leave with their own copy of ‘Quackers’ and there will even be a few special guests.”
Worcester’s Read for the Record sponsors include the United Way, UMass Memorial Healthcare and AbbVie.
“The number we typically use to think about this is the MCAS reading score at third grade,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said when asked about youth literacy rates in Worcester. “In 2014, 63 percent of third-grade students failed to receive a score of proficient or better.”
In Worcester, 34 percent of the 6,000 children under age 5 are living in poverty – and that affects literacy, she said.
“We also know that children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten 60 percent behind their peers from more affluent communities,” she said. “Unfortunately, when children start behind they tend to stay behind. A child not reading at grade level by the end of third grade is four times more likely to drop out of high school.”
Ms. Fitzpatrick emphasized the importance of reaching children at a young age.
Jumpstart, a national nonprofit early education organization, provides language, literacy and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and promotes quality early learning for all children, she said.
Preschool interventions for at-risk children have been associated with significantly higher scores on academic measures as young adults, increased likelihood of attending a four-year college, reduced likelihood of teenage pregnancy, lower crime rate and higher earnings, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
United Way CEO and President Timothy J. Garvin said the organization seeded the program three years ago with a $20,000 startup grant after receiving a phone call from former Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray.
“Read for the Record is an attempt to get more people reading the same book on one day than ever before. The delightful, funny, beautiful book ‘Quackers’ has great art and a simple story, but is also about diversity and inclusion and how we all belong. It will not only get kids excited about reading, but also thinking about a bigger story.”
The event may break a reading record in the city, Mr. Garvin said, and Worcester readers may also contribute to breaking a world reading record Thursday.
United Way volunteers are heading into as many classrooms as they can to read all day long Thursday, Mr. Garvin said.
Di-Ann Ethier, education coordinator for the Webster Square Day Care Center, said the preschool began working with Jumpstart when it first came to the city in 2015 in one of its pre-K classrooms and the collaboration has grown since. Families and teachers at the center, which serves low-income and at-risk families, are excited about Thursday’s event, she said.
“Without the basic fundamentals, children will struggle throughout life,” Ms. Ethier said. “Incorporating Jumpstart into our curriculum has been amazing. (They) are able to work in small groups with our children helping them learn and reinforce the important fundamentals.”
So, what can parents do to help with their children’s progress after the Read for the Record event?
“Read,” said Ms. Fitzpatrick emphatically. “Reading is the best activity you can do with your child. Make it part of your routine before bed or after dinner. Reading books together will allow your child to experience new vocabulary and ideas. There are also so many wonderful events here in Worcester that foster reading with your children.”