In Sacramento, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about significant reductions in literacy rates of third-grade readers, with disproportionate effects on children of color and children from low-income communities. These losses have particularly affected children who receive Free and Reduced-Priced Meals (FRPM) and who live in public housing, much of which is concentrated in the Sacramento Promise Zone (PZ). First awarded in 2015, the PZ is a designation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that identifies regions of particular vulnerability to receive additional federal, state and local support designed to “improve educational outcomes, foster a sustainable economic base, accelerate job creation, promote healthy behaviors, and support sustainably built communities.” Through the efforts of the Sacramento Literacy Foundation (“the Foundation”) and the Sacramento Promise Zone, various initiatives are underway to combat reading losses and poverty-driven adversity.
Promise Zone Literacy Initiative
One significant component within the renewed, collective response to COVID-19’s impact on literacy in Sacramento has been the Promise Zone Literacy Initiative. A collaboration between the Foundation and the Promise Zone, this initiative’s goal is for all children who live in the PZ to read at grade level. This is a particular challenge given economic crises within the PZ, as more than 4,300 families who live within the PZ have limited occupational opportunities. The PZ Literacy Initiative takes a multifaceted approach in improving literacy rates within Sacramento. Central to this approach is giving books to children living in public and affordable housing, which offers children the chance to complement reading comprehension and communication skills developed in school with opportunities to practice and continue learning at home. The PZ Literacy Initiative also supports various out-of-school, after-school and summer reading programs to combat any “reading slide” that might take place when students are disconnected from opportunities to learn. Utilizing connections with the Sacramento Public Library and other community partners, these programs include creative writing workshops, literacy tutoring and wellness education. Since the pandemic, these programs have increasingly relied on virtual connections to reach students beyond in-person classroom settings. These programs have been incredibly successful, with more than 14,000 served in new and innovative educational connections through primarily virtual and hybrid means. Going forward, the PZ Literacy Initiative anticipates using these connections to further develop in-person learning opportunities for children in the PZ.
The PZ Literacy Initiative also works to highlight the importance of PZ-oriented literacy efforts throughout the city, sponsoring an annual Walk4Literacy and designating September as “Literacy Month” in Sacramento. Together, these efforts keep literacy at the forefront of policymaking decisions in housing, education and other spheres of governance.