Read Early, Read Forever

Read Charlotte Teaches Kids and Families the Importance of Reading

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In 2017, 70% of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students were on level for reading at the end of first grade. Two years later, when those same students were in third grade, that number dropped to only 46%. That drop in literacy is where Read Charlotte comes in.

Located in the heart of Mecklenburg County, Read Charlotte is a local collective impact initiative dedicated to enhancing children’s literacy from birth to third grade. Housed under Foundation For The Carolinas, the organization was founded in 2015 after test scores indicated only 40% of Charlotte’s third grade readers were on grade level. Since its inception, Read Charlotte has facilitated collaborative partnerships and offered resources centered on established educational practices and literacy programs.

In short, the initiative has become the ultimate resource for making it easier for adults to take the actions that have been proven to help children learn to read by the third grade.

In its community leadership capacity, Read Charlotte guides the initiative without directly overseeing program operations. Read Charlotte’s mission to achieve their goal – of reaching 80% of third graders scoring at College and Career Ready on the state reading assessment – starts beyond the classroom.

By serving as a capacity-building intermediary through uniting local educators, community leaders and organizations, Read Charlotte is able help provide educational resources to both children and their families.

Pursuit of Literacy

At the helm of Read Charlotte is Dr. Munro Richardson, the founding executive director who believes in the power of early childhood education to shape a brighter future for all. Richardson has worked in the social sector for more than 20 years. Prior to joining Read Charlotte, Munro co-founded a college-access program, led a startup urban college prep charter school and co-founded two education technology startups.

Artist Scott Nurkin poses with Dr. Munro Richardson (left) at a mural Nurkin created to promote reading.

Artist Scott Nurkin (left) poses with Dr. Munro Richardson (right) at a mural Nurkin created to promote reading.

With a background as a Capitol Hill staff member and involvement in community development and education issues, he brings extensive experience to his role – holding a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, master’s degrees from Harvard and Oxford and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Richardson’s role as Read Charlotte’s executive director has enabled him to spearhead various initiatives aimed at fostering a love for reading among young learners.

“The No. 1 thing we’re really encouraging is shared reading, reading together, whether it’s reading to, reading with or having a child read to you,” Richardson said. Read Charlotte understands that it will take our community creating an enduring system change, working together to improve reading skills at school entry and the end of first grade, using evidence-based insights on teaching reading as well as focusing on both sides of the “science of reading.”

Read Charlotte’s tireless dedication to its mission of improving children’s literacy is evident in its approach of aligning efforts across the county – involving close collaboration and partnerships with Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, dedicated educators and engaged families – all working together to ensure a comprehensive and holistic approach to reading instruction.

Read Charlotte has taken a leading role across our community, attracting nearly two dozen local funders to join forces to co-fund 16 projects, contributing a combined investment of $8.3 million — a compelling example of collective generosity from our community.

“I can tell you to a person, every person on my team works exceptionally hard and is driven,” Richardson said. “We are serious about moving the needle for literacy.”

Building Bridges

Partnerships with local organizations like Black Child Development Institute of Charlotte are essential to Read Charlotte.

Read Charlotte

The Read Charlotte team.

BCDI is an affiliate of a national network (the National Black Child Development Institute) that was established to implement programs, engage in advocacy and provide services that improve the quality of life for Black children and their families at a local level. Read Charotte collaborates with the organization through its literacy programs, applying evidence-based knowledge about effective reading instruction and data analysis.

Over the years, Read Charlotte has collaborated with several of BCDI literacy programs: Read to Succeed (designed to promote early literacy and language development by establishing home libraries with culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate books and resources) and Raising A Reader (designed to help families develop, practice and maintain strong literacy habits).

The President of Black Child Development Institute of Charlotte, Dr. Devonya Govan-Hunt, expressed gratitude for their partnership with Read Charlotte. She emphasized the invaluable nature of collaboration in their efforts to uplift families and children.

“We are only as strong as our partners,” she said. This sentiment underscores the importance of a unified approach to effecting change and creating lasting impact.

“I personally feel very, very blessed and fortunate to have partners like BCDI to work with,” said Richardson about working with an organization that has helped build coalitions for five decades.

In response to the impact of the pandemic in 2020, Read Charlotte initiated efforts to modify an evidence-based solution, previously successful in a classroom setting, for effective implementation within households. Reading Checkup – a community initiative coordinated by Read Charlotte and powered by Scholastic – encourages Mecklenburg County families (with Pre-k to third grade students) to get a free Reading Checkup. A child completes two online quizzes, then parents/caretakers receive recommendations for specific reading skills to focus on at home, while choosing from targeted activities that meet the child’s needs.

As a result of their combined efforts, today, BCDI continues to utilize the Reading Checkup as a key resource in its family empowerment work. As of November 2023, more than 5,020 Checkups have been completed since the tool’s launch.

Milestones and Looking Ahead

Since Read Charlotte started, major strides have been successfully made across Charlotte-Mecklenburg, with a focus on creating a stronger early literacy ecosystem.

Read Charlotte is committed to aligning literacy across the county by working with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, community partners and national experts to develop three community indicators for us to know if children are on track to be College and Career Ready: school entry, end of first grade and the end of third grade.

In Read Charlotte’s latest report, despite the impact of the pandemic, their organization still believes that 80% (or more) of our third graders can reach College and Career Ready in Reading, but only if we continue to align efforts strategically across the classroom, community and at home. In recent years, our community has worked together in new ways and is making major strides in systems change, creating a stronger early literacy ecosystem:

  • In 2019, CMS adopted a district-wide, high-quality literacy curriculum for elementary education.
  • More than 5,900 children are attending public Pre-K in Mecklenburg County.
  • More than 30,000 Mecklenburg County children between the ages 0 and 5 are receiving monthly books through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library – administered by Smart Start of Mecklenburg County.

Looking ahead, Read Charlotte envisions a continued commitment to transformative practices in collaborative partnerships across our community, the utilization of resources whether through pooled funds or aligned funds – recognizing them as a catalyst for systemic change.

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Loren Allison is a Content Specialist of Communications, at Foundation For The Carolinas.