Social Innovation

Inspiring Arizona’s Youth to Help Solve the Literacy Crisis

By: Sophie Etchart

An independent evaluation funded by Valley of the Sun United Way found that RBBB’s program has significant impact on third grade participants’ self-perception as readers in terms of their observational comparison skills, social feedback skills, and physiological state. The program improves third graders’ general perception of themselves as readers and of their own academic progress. Importantly, the evaluation found significant improvement on third grade state standardized tests scores, including the AIMSweb and Dibels tests.

The evaluation also found that older students significantly improve their own literacy skills, as seen in improved standardized test scores, and the program strongly increases their feelings of social and personal responsibility. Research shows that service learning positively affects student achievement and engagement. Not only does this stem the tide of dropouts, but it creates a generation of youth who are academically prepared for success in college and who possess a strong sense of civic responsibility.

The literacy crisis in Arizona is relevant to all of us, and is one of the most pressing social justice issues affecting our state today. RBBB’s solution is simple, smart and scalable. Since we piloted our program in the Spring 2015 with two partner schools, we have grown from serving sixty-four students that first semester to six hundred and thirty-four students in the Spring 2017 semester across thirteen partner schools. Our processes allow for an affordable and easy roll-out; each semester, we will continue to expand the program by one school district, recruiting and engaging additional passionate site staff each time, with a goal of reaching 6,800 students annually by 2021.

Arizona’s literacy crisis disproportionately affects students from low-income families. The long-term effects of illiteracy, such as high rates of unemployment, create an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Therefore, RBBB targets students at schools in low-income neighborhoods. Currently, RBBB programs are offered at all elementary schools across the Avondale, Tolleson, Osborn Elementary and Washington Elementary District School Districts.