The city of Delray Beach wants to make sure its elementary school students read at grade level.
It kicked off its eighth annual “Delray Reads” event at Plumosa School of the Arts on Thursday morning with the school choir singing to volunteers about how important it is to "Read, Read, Read."
Then the volunteers picked up this year’s book, “Thank You, Omu” by Oge Mora, and fanned out across Delray’s elementary schools.
Every year since the event started in 2012, organizers have picked a book – usually geared toward the third grade reading level – that they can adapt for a story hour for kids at all elementary school levels.
It’s part of the broader Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, started in the city eight years ago and aimed at improving third grade reading scores by 50 percent by the end of 2020.
This year, the Delray Reads event overlapped with the national Read for the Record program. The latter was started not long before Delray’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and is also aimed at improving literacy, although it emphasizes early language skills.
Reading for the Record has since started to work with older kids as well – which means the book Read for the Record picked this year, “Thank You, Omu,” was appropriate for the Delray Reads audience, too.
Armed with Mora’s book, volunteers from around Delray headed to classrooms to read aloud the story of a woman who shares the stew she’s cooking for dinner with all the people in her neighborhood who come knocking until there’s none left for her.
“Sorry and blue, she sat at the table with her empty pot until…” read Atlantic Community High School principal Tara Ocampo to a fifth grade class at Plumosa. “Knock, knock, knock, knock,” the kids chimed in, reading along.
“Now what, what do you think is going to happen?” Ocampo quizzed the fifth graders.
It’s a timely story for November, with its Thanksgiving-like message of sharing, giving and showing appreciation for the kind actions of others.
“I thought the book this year was a really fun book,” said Janet Meeks, the City of Delray Beach’s education coordinator.
Delray Reads gets community members involved with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in a more hands-on way, but a lot of the work that’s been powering Delray’s improvements in third grade reading scores happens throughout the year.
Meeks says they’ve been working specifically on improving student attendance, boosting kindergarten readiness scores and stemming the summer learning slide by sending kids home with books.
“If you get all three of those working in the same direction, you can improve those third grade reading scores,” she said.
All four of Delray’s Title I schools have been able to send books home with kindergarteners and first graders over the summer, and if there’s enough money, second graders get to take home a stack of reading material, as well.
As for today’s event, Meeks says it went well.
“It was fantastic,” she said.