The data showing fourth-grade reading levels nationwide. Carolyn Carrillo, an Elmhurst bookstore owner, wants to change those stats — at least in Proviso Township. She’ll be in Maywood on April 9 at the Quinn Community Center, 1832 S. 8th, from 2 PM to 3 PM, giving away books, reading to children and talking about literacy.
Friday, April 8, 2016 || By Michael Romain
A recent analysis of federal education data by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that at least 80 percent of black fourth-graders in Illinois, and throughout the nation, scored below the proficient reading level. And the numbers aren’t terribly high for students of other races and ethnicities (see the chart above).
“The one statistic I always go back to is from 2003,” said Carolyn Carrillo, (pictured above left), the founder of the Elmhurst-based bookstore A Book Above and the literacy charity Readers Ignite.
“That stat showed that, at the time, we had 43 percent of American adults reading at or below a basic reading level,” she said in a recent interview. “And basic is really considered third grade.”
As tragic as the data appears, Carrillo said, there’s no comparable sense of alarm about, let alone a collective effort to mobilize solutions to, the problem of literacy in America.
“For so many years, the dialogue around education has been about so many things [other than literacy],” she said.
“There’s this whole STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] push, which I love; but if a person can’t read, she’s certainly not going to understand physics. I don’t care how many classes you stick her in. We’re just not balanced right.”
Carrillo said she was motivated to start her charitable literacy organization because she felt that not enough attention was being devoted to the literacy crisis, particularly in Proviso Township. She said after an exhaustive search, she didn’t find comparable organizations in the Chicago suburbs — particularly in communities where they’re most needed.
“It really saddened me that there doesn’t seem to be any resources these communities can tap into,” Carrillo said. “I thought, ‘Why aren’t people doing more things to reach out and help. How can there not be a children’s literacy charity? We’ve got like 10 cancer charities in Elmhurst.”
Since founding her charity, Carrillo has hosted reading events at daycares and preschools in Maywood and nearby suburbs. She’s also donated more than 2,000 children’s books to District 89 and PAEC schools.
She said she’s seeking to do even more programming if she can nab the necessary funds through grants and sponsorships. So far, she said, her charitable organization has largely been funded by her own largesse.
Carrillo said she envisions future programs in Proviso Township attracting young readers, particularly those from ages zero to four. For instance, she’d like to hire someone to read to children in an area laundromat every Saturday for months at a time. Another program, which is currently in operation, donates books and stuffed animals to young readers and teaches them how to read to their fluffy new friends.
“I want children to see reading as a component of love,” she said. “I recognize in some of these families of lot of dysfunction may be happening. I’m not placing blame, but that’s the reality. When there’s continual lack it can be extremely stressful on families.”
Carrillo said she often urges young parents to encourage their children to read through ways that are easily implemented, such as placing stacks of books next to the toilet while children are being potty-trained or placing stacks of books near the bed for light bedtime reading. And when parents go out shopping or to the doctor’s office? Take some books.
“Nowhere in our school system do we teach growing children how to raise readers,” she said. “As a society, we think that when someone becomes a parent, they automatically know how to raise a reader.”
Carrillo said that technological gadgets can often hinder, rather than help, the process of raising readers.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love computers. My background is computer science engineering. But at this point in our society, [trying to foster literacy solely through technological tools] is like trying to use a hammer to fix something that needs a screw driver. Technology is a great tool, but it’s not the solution to everything. Books are still great tools.” VFP
Carrillo will be at the Quinn Community Center, 1832 S. 8th Ave., Maywood, on April 9, from 2 PM to 3 PM, for an afternoon of family engaged reading and wonderful, free books for all children.