In a city throbbing with diversity, music, art and culture, many residents are unaware that Miami-Dade County has one of the lowest literacy rates in America. At the University of Miami students who are too busy to do all of their required reading, much less pick up a novel to pass the time, often overlook the fact that they are part of a privileged population, a population that is able to function effortlessly in a word-driven society.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, in Miami-Dade County 52 percent of the population lacks basic prose literacy skills, the necessary reading comprehension tools needed to understand the written English language. Compared with other counties in the state of Florida Miami-Dade has the lowest literacy rates by a margin of about 20 percent.
“Reading is just as important today as it as ever been,” wrote Ernestine Walls Benedict, of Reading is Fundamental, Inc. in an e-mail to The Miami Hurricane. “Reading empowers children by providing a virtual passport to explore the world. They can learn about places, people and things very different from their own experiences, as well as see themselves reflected in other children’s lives.”
Reading is Fundamental is just one of the many organizations in Miami committed to decreasing the literacy achievement gap amongst African American, Hispanic and American Indian communities.
The children with the lowest reading levels are usually the children in the lowest socio economic bracket. Without access to reading material or higher education, kids that speak another language, or who may have a learning disability are often overlooked.
The University of Miami is one of the organizations that have developed literacy programs to cater to “at risk” kids in the community. The department of education’s Upward Bound program is designed to challenge high school students to develop the skills, study habits, discipline and attitude they need to succeed. The program’s ultimate goal is to prepare and motivate students to pursue a college education.
“I don’t feel like UM does much at all to encourage reading,” said sophomore Allison Babes. “Even at the book store, they have way more clothes than books.”
The UM school of education also does outreach to communities throughout Miami-Dade in order to strengthen literacy and encourage change. However, none of UM’s community education outreach programs target as many people, or recieve as much publicity as the Miami Book Fair International.
The book fair is sponsored by Miami-Dade College each year and is a huge outreach opportunity to get the community excited about reading. Venders of all types come from around the world to cater to a diverse taste in literature. One of the goals of the book fair is to present new ideas on educating children to parents and teachers.
“This is another tool to teach people how to learn to love to read,” said Alex Simmons of the Kid’s Comic Con Road Show. Simmons is the founder of Kid’s Comic Con, a comic convention aimed at readers of all ages.
A comic junkie in his youth, Simmons became discouraged when comic conventions became geared more towards an older readership. He decided that a family friendly comic convention was needed; a place where writers, illustrators and publishers could interact with their readers, and kids could meet their real life heroes.
Simmons believes that comic books, a literary form that kids naturally gravitate towards, are often overlooked by teachers, when they could be used as a valuable tool to encourage kids not only to read, but to imagine a better life for themselves.
“The greatest teaser we have to knowledge is our imagination,” Simmons said. “When adults dampen that, kids are limited in the possibilities they can imagine for themselves. When you teach strictly by words and numbers you cripple them.”
At UM where every student has received enough education to not only understand what they read, but how to fake what they haven’t read, the importance of those basic skills, understanding and summarization, is often overlooked.
“Forty-four million adults in the U.S. can’t read well enough to read a simple story to a child,” Benedict wrote. “Awareness of these critical facts should motivate every college student to do their part in creating a literate nation.”