"To encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country."
George Washington spoke those wise words. The sentiment applies today and Western New Yorkers have an opportunity to put it into practice in a program that helps young people improve their reading skills.
Read to Succeed Buffalo and the AARP Foundation Experience Corps are partnering with the City of Buffalo in launching a recruitment campaign to attract about 40 volunteers to tutor about 350 students up to the third grade at West Hertel Academy, Waterfront Elementary and Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence.
Volunteers 50 and older will be given the training necessary to enable them to change the trajectory of the youngest lives through reading.
The local offshoot of a national literacy program begins when school starts next month. To the older generation, it is inconceivable that children go to bed without having a story read to them. But it happens more often than not for those living in impoverished environments where television is the baby sitter.
Learning is cumulative and it has to start at an early age. Education experts say that third grade is the turning point for students to transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."
It is eye-opening to hear that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma. Poverty makes the problem even more severe, according to a 2012 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This is a critical issue for the Buffalo Public Schools, where black and Latino students - two-thirds of the district's enrollment - are eight times more likely to drop out if they are poor and not reading at grade level by third grade.
Increasing reading proficiency is vital for poor urban school districts such as Buffalo. It requires a concerted effort, and this initiative is part of that. Given the area's strong history of community involvement, there should be no shortage of volunteers.
Read to Succeed is hosting an information session from noon to 2 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave. To learn more, go to readtosucceedbuffalo.org or call (716) 843-8895.
More wise words, these from Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations: "Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman, and child can realize his or her full potential."