Five Qs: Pamela Good on 5-Year Literacy Plan for Detroit

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Pamela Good, president and director of Beyond Basics, a nonprofit serving students in the lowest performing schools in Detroit, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about illiteracy in the city and what Beyond Basics is doing to help.

1. DDN: What is the mission for Beyond Basics? 

PG: We care about children, especially the most vulnerable. These are children living in high poverty (in Detroit) and attending the lowest performing schools in the state. I really do believe that this is not so much an educational crisis, as it is a social service crisis. We have children from poverty showing up to society’s doors at public education, and we really need to respond in a caring and helpful way. That alone motivates us to help.

We partner with principals in K-12 schools to deliver daily literacy focused programs, reaching all children. Through our one-on-one reading program, we get children reading (at or beyond grade level) in just six weeks. In addition, we run publishing centers, art, mentoring, and partnership programs.

2. DDN: How are you successful in helping a child in just six weeks?

PG: First, we build trust with the student, it is one to one, allowing them to fully engage in the process and we use a curriculum that is amazing: Tattum Reading. … It was developed by Steve Tattum, an advocate for literacy who’s been in this business for 40 years. He developed a curriculum that breaks the English language into 25 concepts that’s very teachable. It’s great for kids who have brain injuries, dyslexia, or English for second language learners. And it works amazingly well with our students.

3. DDN: How has the program evolved since you first founded it in 2002?

PG: It all started with delivering coats to a school — Herman Elementary/Charles Rogers Academy in Detroit. The day I delivered coats, my eyes were opened to a completely different world and a community that desperately needed help. With that, I started piloting programs in the school (and adding) publishing centers, reading with kids, and book clubs. That’s how I became aware of the illiteracy problem in the city’s schools. And with that, it took us about three years to develop a really solid curriculum that gets kids to read at or above grade level in six weeks. For many years, we tried using volunteers to read with kids a couple times of per week. Although that’s time well spent, it wasn’t moving them to grade level. And in 2002, we incorporated, and in 2008, we really achieved our first solid outcome data, and the results have been consistent since then.

Today, we have 50 employees, over 2,500 volunteers, and are reaching 8,500 students this year. Hundreds will learn to read. It is a gift that keeps on giving as they will now be a reader in their family and will also break the cycle of generational illiteracy by reading to their children.

4. DDN: What challenges does your organization face?

PG: I think there’s two things that people aren’t aware of, and they stand in the way of us moving forward as well as we can as fast as we can. The first one is kids and families in the city of Detroit are suffering, and we as a community should treat this like any crisis in America and come to their aid more fully. And secondly, I don’t think people are aware of the extreme level of illiteracy in our schools. The magnitude is so much that the school itself really can’t deal with the problem — 75 percent of the kids are significantly behind in reading. The average 11th grader is reading at a fourth or fifth grade level in the schools we serve. These statistics are known nationally and by the state. Although things can be done to change education, ours is a child-focused initiative that helps to bring students up to grade level in reading so that they can take advantage of all of the other opportunities available to them in a strong school system. I think if people understood those two things we would be empowered to help as many kids as quickly as we can. 

5. DDN: Are there plans for expansion or growth this year?

Our plan at the moment is to gain support for our five-year literacy plan, to move through all schools, Education Achievement Authority and Detroit Public Schools, helping 75 percent of that population who struggle with reading. It is a solvable problem. It is up to us. This month, we’re hosting the (Women Coming Together for Children Luncheon on March 19) at the Colony Club in Detroit. It’s a time for women to come together in celebration for the many good things that are being done on behalf of children and families in the city. Like all events we run, it supports our work, helping kids that are the most vulnerable. And it recognizes others that are helping others in the community.

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