PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — According to experts, the student achievement gaps between Black children and their white counterparts is a problem cities across the country are experiencing.

But a local campaign is looking to change that in the Bay Area and they’re using a resource they say has been long forgotten: the community. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Phillis Wheatly Rise to Read Campaign hoping to bring the reading gap between students 

  • The campaign will partner with the Pinellas County School District, the City of St. Pete and the juvenile welfare board

  • A pilot program is set to roll out in 2022

  • Related: Justice For All: Bridging the student reading scores gap

The Phillis Wheatly Rise to Read Campaign plans to use the community concept by inviting them into the fold to tackle achievement gaps. 

The sizable achievement gaps when it comes to reading scores for third grade Black students when compared to white students, isn’t a new issue. It’s the reason for the different literacy programs aimed to close that gap. But even with those literacy programs, those low reading scores are still an issue. 

“I wish that I knew the answer of why. The only thing I can speak to is that it currently is," said Phillis Wheatly Rise to Read Campaign Chairwoman Maria Scruggs. "And the one thing that seems to be missing from the solution is the community itself. And that’s the gap that Phillis Wheatly will fill."

“What we recognize is there are a lot of great literacy programs in the community, but when you look at the number of children that have to be impacted, it’s impossible for these programs to do them in isolation," she added. "And what Phillis Wheatly is attempting to do is use collective impact as a model to organize and coordinate the work, to develop some shared outcomes."

Scruggs is the former president of the NAACP’s St. Petersburg chapter. For years she worked with the community to identify the problems that led to low reading scores and how to fix them.

“This is just too big to wait for somebody else to do it for us,” she said.

Their strategy for closing the achievement gaps starts with local literacy programs working together with the community under the umbrella of the Phillis Wheatly Rise to Read Campaign.

The campaign and its participants will partner with the Pinellas County School District, the city of St. Petersburg and the juvenile welfare board. With those partners, Rise to Read Campaign officials hope to expand their reach from inside classrooms to football locker rooms, the juvenile justice system and beyond.

They said they’re hoping to reach more than 15,000 Black children in St. Petersburg.  

For the schools participating in the PWRTRC, there will be mental health and vision screenings offered, along with a literacy assessment.

Accessing that student information is one of the incentives for the participating literacy programs. That information is expected to allow those programs to reach more children and set them up with reading success plans.

It would also allow campaign partners to monitor each child’s progress electronically and step in to provide any help they may need.

If children already have an individualized reading plan, they can still be enrolled in PWRTRC with a tailored plan that includes activities and instructions.

The campaign is still in its early stages, but is set to be phased in starting as a pilot program with selected schools at the elementary, middle and high school level in 2022.