How reading helped change the course of one little girl’s life

Kelsie is a first-grade teacher who works with children in the early days of their reading life. She works with them on letters, sounds and recognizing the basic words that are the building blocks to stringing together sentences. Many of Kelsie’s students will catch on to these lessons quickly and climb the literacy ladder to reading picture books and even small chapter books within a year or so.

Yet this young teacher knows there will be those students who struggle even with the most basic concepts. These young children will not have a solid foundation as they move on in their elementary school years. A shaky literacy foundation can lead to larger issues for these students as they grow older. Students who can’t read at grade level will have a hard time keeping up with their work and be unable to pass state-mandated reading tests.

Kelsie feels these struggling students’ pain because she didn’t pass those tests herself until she was in the sixth grade.

Parent and child read a book together

“Her parents were very supportive,” Kelsie’s sixth-grade teacher and reading expert, Donalyn Miller, says. “She was also in tutoring. She was working with the wonderful reading specialist at our school. She just wasn’t making the gains she needed to make.”

By the time Kelsie reached Mrs. Miller’s class, she’d failed three state-mandated reading assessments. Miller decided to try something different with this student who tried so hard but wasn’t achieving the way she wanted: She made sure Kelsie had access to as many books as possible. The more choices Kelsie could have, the more likely it was that she would read different kinds of books and complete more books. Having more books meant Kelsie could practice her skills with reading material she really enjoyed.

Research data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows the more access students have to books, the higher their academic proficiency. Specifically, less than 15% of students with between zero and 10 books scored proficient in 2015, while 50% of students with more than 100 books scored at a proficient level.

Early reading success is also a predictor for future life achievement. Children who cannot read at grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school. If you add poverty into this equation, that same child is now 13 times less likely to graduate.

Little boy reads on floor of library

For this reason, the Scripps Howard Foundation has launched a literacy campaign called “If You Give a Child a Book.” The foundation raises money and, in a partnership with Scholastic Books, purchases and provides books to children in need through local nonprofit organizations. To date, the Scripps Howard Foundation has donated more than 500,00 books to children in need. You can help by donating online or texting “BOOK” to 345345.

Students like Kelsie — who was fortunate enough to have plenty of books to enjoy — reap benefits far beyond passing an assessment exam. Today, she is shaping the newest generation of readers.

Miller saw her former student Kelsie at a teacher conference and marveled at how she overcame her earlier reading obstacles.

“She said, ‘Mrs. Miller, I bet in third grade, no one would have believed I would become a teacher,” Miller says of her conversation with Kelsie. “But there she is, teaching. And she said her experience as a striving reader actually helped her be a better teacher because she could empathize with the children in her classroom who had those struggles, too.”

Hear Donalynn Miller talk about her student below:

Simplemost — in partnership with our audiences, our parent company, The E.W. Scripps Company, and the Scripps Howard Foundation — is helping to put books into the hands of kids who need them most as part of the 2021 “If You Give A Child A Book …” campaign. To give, you can make a donation here or text “BOOK” to 345345. To date, the Scripps Howard Foundation has donated over 500,000 books to kids in need.