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Literacy Advocates Promote ‘The Right to Read’ in Fresno Screening on Monday

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"The Right to Read" will be screened at Fresno High on Feb. 5. (GV Wire Composite)
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The inability to read isn’t just an education issue for students — it’s also a civil rights issue because reading is critical to success in college, career, and life.

Fresno Unified’s iReady testing reveals the ugly truth of just how far below grade level some students are reading, with some high schoolers only reading at the kindergarten or first-grade level, and large numbers of the older students reading only at the elementary school level.

In Fresno and across California, students of color have lower reading scores on standardized testing. If certain student populations are struggling more than their peers with literacy and reading achievement, being unable to read becomes an equity issue as well, and is being recognized as such by a growing number of NAACP chapters.

Fresno Unified’s iReady testing reveals the ugly truth of just how far below grade level some students are reading, with some high schoolers only reading at the kindergarten or first-grade level, and large numbers of the older students reading only at the elementary school level.

The early grades are when children need to cement the reading skills that they will need later in middle and high school when academic coursework grows more difficult.

Focusing on Literacy

Fresno Unified is stepping up its efforts to make literacy more than a schoolhouse effort. Last spring the district launched Fresno Unified School District’s Literacy Initiative with a vow from Superintendent Bob Nelson that all children will be reading at grade level by the end of first grade.

“The Right to Read” Screening

Free admission

5 p.m., Monday, Feb. 5

Fresno High School’s Royce Hall

The district’s External Office of Engagement and Partnerships has been arranging screenings of the documentary, “The Right to Read,” which questions how reading has been taught for decades and urges a return to the “science of reading.”

That science — how to sound out written words, and connect with spoken words, vocabulary, and fluency — is part of the district’s developing Literacy Initiative framework.

The Office of External Engagement and Partnerships worked with the Fresno Housing Authority to show the documentary at three sites: Legacy Commons, Cedar Courts, and Parc Grove Commons.

Tammy Townsend, deputy director of the Fresno Housing Authority, said children and adults attended the screenings and their comments included:

“Can we get something started like that in the community … Is there something for adults who can’t read … Language barrier is huge for families that don’t speak English. Is there anything bilingual … How can we bring a program like that to Cedar Courts … Does this program tie in with the school system?”

Fresno High Screening Scheduled

The Office of External Engagements and Partnerships is partnering with Lexia Learning, a Massachusetts company that provides a science of reading-based curriculum to supplement classroom instruction, to host a showing of “The Right to Read” in the Royce Hall Auditorium at Fresno High School on Monday, Feb. 5. The screening, which is free and open to the public, will start at 5 p.m.

Literacy advocates have hailed the documentary, and an online screening was the first public event last August for the newly formed Reading League of California.

The documentary’s executive producer is actor LeVar Burton, the longtime host of the PBS series “Reading Rainbow,” and the director is Jenny Mackenzie. It shares the stories of an NAACP activist and a teacher, both based in Oakland, and Black families in Mississippi and Virginia who have made literacy their mission.

Nelson and School Board President Susan Wittrup told GV Wire that they plan to attend the screening at Fresno High.

Wittrup said she’s looking forward to finally seeing the entire documentary.

“I’ve been hearing about it. I’ve been seeing clips when I was in Washington last March. And. And I’m so glad it’s finally making it here,” she said.

“But why it’s not on some free streaming place and not all over the place, I don’t understand that. It needs to be everywhere.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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