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A Focus on Literacy in Inner-City Neighborhoods and Urban Youth Impact

Urban Youth Impact is on a mission to love, equip and empower inner-city youth and their families to fulfill their God-given potential. In order to accomplish the mission, they believe that equipping kids to be successful in their early years will impact and reverse disturbing statistics about illiteracy and troubling trends in the community.

One of the biggest problems kids face in urban neighborhoods is illiteracy.

According to the World Literacy Foundation there are 7.9 million low-income children, birth through age 8 in the United States. If current trends hold true, 83%, or 6.6 million of these children, are at increased risk of dropping out of high school because they can’t read proficiently by fourth grade. Out of our 70% who fall into this low-income category, that means 68% of our children are destined to fall behind if we don’t intervene on their behalf. We want to help get kids reading on grade level before it’s too late.

Here’s the reality:

2/3 of students who don’t read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of inmates cannot read above a 4th-grade level ( Students who don’t read proficiently by 3rd grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers ( Kids who become illiterate adults are more likely to be stuck in the cycle of poverty with limited opportunities for employment or income generation. The effects of illiteracy are very similar in developing and developed countries that lack sufficient opportunities for employment which leads to higher chances of poor health, turning to crime and dependence on social welfare or charity ( The cost of illiteracy to the global economy is estimated at USD $1.2 trillion (

Learning how to read and write can break the cycle of poverty. There is a positive correlation between crime rates and illiteracy as well as employment and literacy. The higher a person’s literacy rate the greater the opportunity for employment, and the lower a person’s literacy rate the greater the chance they will become involved in crime.

Our goal is to focus on the whole child while making literacy a key focus for them while they are here. We currently use Reading Plus to help drive instruction and lesson planning.

Last year (2015-16) we compared test data of students who remain in our program more than 2 hours per day with the data of those who left the program early.

When analyzing this data we found that students who remain in our program for the full time had an increase in literacy scores of 252 point on average. Students who left the program early only demonstrated a 74 point increase in test scores from baseline to the final assessment.

This data propelled us to implement a new policy where parents can only pick up their children during the pickup times unless excused for early pick up (sport, emergency, school event).

Urban Youth Impact The Leadership Academy Results:

33% of students began the school year (2015-16) reading on grade level69% students ended the school year (2015-16) reading on grade level90% of students showed improvement throughout the year

Our focus on literacy has proven to be effective. With the funding for a new literacy intervention specialist, we are now able to dedicate a staff person to help kids. There are still more kids to help, and we encourage you to get involved and continue giving generously so that more kids graduate on time and thrive as productive adults in the community.

Ryah’s Story of Success to an Improved Reading Ability

Ryah is a 3rd-grade student who has been in Urban Youth Impact afterschool programs since kindergarten. Last year, Ryah went into Mrs. Lauren’s 2nd-grade class with a poor attitude and low reading test scores. Mrs. Lauren quickly realized that Ryah’s biggest struggle and the reason she was acting out was her endless hours of attempting reading homework without success. Ryah was reading below grade level and never felt she could catch up.

In order to help students in their reading ability, The Leadership Academy (TLA) uses the Reading Plus computer-based software-reading curriculum. Reading Plus is currently used within the Palm Beach County School District. As a result, Urban Youth Impact is now able to align program activities with the school day activities in fun and meaningful ways to increase student engagement. Reading Plus is the only Common Core-aligned reading intervention that prepares students to engage with complex text by developing all three dimensions of successful readers – capacity, efficiency, and motivation – which are the foundation of success.

Ryah worked hard in Reading Plus, tutoring, and one–on–one coaching during center time to improve her reading with Mrs. Lauren. Ryah even continued tutoring throughout the summer and was able to start 3rd grade with improved reading scores! Ryah continues to be motivated to read by a few external factors, such as treasure box picks and treats, and is more and more excited about getting on Reading Plus and participating in tutoring.

Urban Youth Impact Literacy Specialist

TLA Team Leaders are always looking for ways to help students and have introduced individualized literacy tutoring that targets students who fall behind academically. A specially trained literacy intervention specialist spends 15-20 minutes per day with students, providing one-on-one coaching until their reading level reaches that of other students in the class. By the end of the 2016 school year, students in TLA increased Reading Plus scores by 252 points, compared to Common Core State Standards reported an average of 120 points for nationwide students!

A change started to occur with Ryah-instead of Mrs. Lauren reminding her again to “chunk out” the word and finger track as she reads; she started reminding her peers as they read. Ryah used to complain about tutoring during snack time, now she’s begging to spend extra time on top of tutoring doing Reading Plus.

93% of Students Showed Gains

Mrs. Lauren’s passion is to teach kids to learn to read and to read on grade level, developing a love for learning. She is a former classroom teacher who brings a wealth of literacy knowledge and an enthusiasm that knows no limits. Mrs. Lauren began last year, as a pilot project to pull our lowest-performing students out and work with them on reading. She made it so fun that everyone wanted to learn from Mrs. Lauren-and learn they did- 93% of students showed significant gains.

We’ve seen a clear change from Ryah’s motivation being external to becoming more internal. Ryah is proud of her hard work; she’s learning what she is capable of with the mind and talents God has given her. She is an amazing young girl who is continuing to grow and learn and we will keep doing our best to equip her to fulfill the plans God has for her.

This approach proved to be effective, and the literacy intervention specialist is now supporting all grades in The Leadership Academy. The focus on literacy is aligned with Urban Youth Impact’s program approach since it truly serves the most vulnerable students.

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