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Calgary Reads suspends two school reading programs

Hundreds of city schools will be without long time reading support programs now that Calgary Reads has suspended two of their in-school offerings due to budget uncertainty and a drop in donations.

Calgary Reads has been delivering school-based programs for the past two decades, but CEO Steacy Collyer said they had to make the difficult decision this year to stop the programming for now.

“We’ve positioned this as a pause,” Collyer told LiveWire Calgary.

“We don’t want to get out of our schools, but we need to rethink a business plan, we need the schools to kind of settle into their new reality, whatever that’s going to be based on government decisions that really we won’t know until October, November.”

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There are two programs affected: Wee read and Read Up!

Wee Read brings volunteers into schools to read aloud to students in kindergarten and Grade 1 to help strengthen language and literacy skills. Read Up! helps students in Grade 1 and 2 gain confidence in reading and aids in bringing them up to grade-level reading.

Calgary Reads reaches wide range of kids

Collyer said there’s substantial evidence showing that early literacy skills dramatically improve future education outcomes. When they’re able to deliver programs in the schools it reaches the gamut of students in different socioeconomic circumstances.

“We’re very attentive to children growing up in poverty, because we know that 25 per cent of kids have no books in their homes,” she said.

“And if you’re growing up in a house with no books, you are already at risk of lower literacy levels.”

Collyer said the programs cost roughly $250,000 annually to run. They train volunteers – they have 2,500 of them across Alberta – to assist the students with their reading. Further, roughly 800 post-secondary students are also trained annually to help. Those students won’t be trained this year.

Donations are down 25 per cent. Collyer said Calgary Reads, much like many city non-profits, are suffering the unrelenting sting of a recovering economy. With their annual operating budget of roughly $1.5 million, she said pausing the school-based programs essentially covered the donation shortfall.

Some school programs will stay, including the reading rallies. These, however, are typically sponsored events. Large reading events will also happen at some schools.

Typically, Calgary Reads attends 150 to 200 schools annually. Collyer said they went to a blended model a few years ago where participating schools paid a “chapter fee,” or small honorarium to participate in the program.

That’s dried up. Only 26 schools had signed up.

“It’s in part because of the uncertainty in the education sector,” Collyer said.

“No school boards have received their budgets. They don’t know what’s going to happen with curriculum.”

“We just felt like we were not going to be able to get their attention in time to start deploying our volunteer resources into their schools in an effective way.”

Calgary Board of Education hopes to continue work together

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) is aware of the suspension of the Calgary Reads programs.

“We value our partners who help us in our work to support student success,” said Joanne Pitman, Superintendent of School Improvement, in an emailed statement. 

“We understand Calgary Reads is reimaging how it delivers services. We look forward to working together to foster a love of reading in our community.”

The CBE did say the program participation is at the discretion of each school.

Collyer said despite the setback, their non-profit organization is encouraging its volunteers to stay connected to the schools and continue to provide support where possible.

“Hopefully many of those volunteers, once they’ve been trained, and once they are linked to a school, the schools are…hopefully they will continue to nurture those volunteers, encourage them, and identify the right kids for the volunteer to work with,” Collyer said.

They’re going to revisit the deployment of the reading programs in schools and review the overall business model of the programs in the coming months, Collyer said.

Visit the website for more information on Calgary Reads programs.