Birmingham scheme aims to boost pupils’ reading skills and tackle crime

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Two Birmingham-area schools are among recipients of a $107,000 grant-funded effort to tackle long-term crime prevention in the metro area.

Volunteers and community advocates work with Better Basics, an organization founded in 1993, to eradicate illiteracy and help students find jobs and career choices. The program is also part of efforts to reduce crime rates and the long-term effects of violence on children.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there is a link between high crime rates and illiteracy. Better Basics aims to disrupt the use of criminal activity as a likely means of financial survival by providing basic levels of academic skills and credentials.

“Low literacy is one of the most significant common factors for people in prisons in the United States,” said Kristi Bradford, executive director of Better Basics. “Across the country, 85% of juveniles and 60% of adults within the criminal justice system are functionally illiterate.”

Better Basics recently received $28,117 in grants. The program partners with classroom teachers to provide needed reading and math intervention for K-4 students who are performing below grade level. The teachers, often retired, are equipped to teach students in small groups.

Central Park Elementary School in Fairfield and Martha Gaskins Elementary School in Center Point are the two schools selected to receive this grant. The two schools are located near the East and West Quarters respectively and were chosen because these locations account for the bulk of the crime that occurs in Birmingham.

“The combined crime rates in the east and west areas represent 55% of all crime in the city of Birmingham,” Bradford said.

The funding is in addition to other grants for efforts to reduce and prevent crime rates in Birmingham, which were approved by Governor Kay Ivey this fall.

“These grants provide another tool to help law enforcement and community organizations,” his office said.

Jeremy Sherer, Assistant US Attorney for the Northern District of Birmingham and supervisor of the Safe Neighborhoods Project, maintains a proactive stance in support of crime-fighting efforts in Birmingham.

“Our office always prefers preventing a crime to prosecuting a crime,” Sherer said.

Claudine Land, a second-year volunteer with the program, describes a typical Better Basics volunteer day: Volunteers provide communication between teachers, administration and parents. It is also important to ensure that the program is translated to a level of understanding for all. She loves seeing the excitement on the faces of the children once they have grasped the understanding of the concepts.

“Also, knowing that the kids have worked hard and accomplished the very skill they once lacked is rewarding,” Land said. “Seeing their subject score improve is extremely rewarding.”

Land ensures that each student’s curriculum is complete with all the information learned that day. She also verifies that laptops and other electronic aids have been provided to everyone.

Project Safe Neighborhoods has worked with the Better Basics program since 2014 and has funded the program since 2015. Sherer’s office manages data that correlates illiteracy with crime risk, relying on Better Basics to determine which schools are most at risk. high risk and necessary to work with.

“We have invested heavily,” Sherer said, “from grants through PSN to staff volunteer hours to support initiatives that serve at-risk young people in Birmingham and elsewhere in the district.”

The goal of this grant is to improve math and reading skills at Martha Gaskins and Central Park Schools during the 2022-23 school year. The hope is that students will be solidified with the foundational skills they can build on for the rest of their school career.

“It’s harder to help a 25-year-old adult than a five-year-old child,” Sherer said. “These communities face complex issues. The more programs we can provide for children, the better. »

During the 2020-21 school year, all Better Basics programs were virtual, but Bradford said volunteers were still able to help students.

  • 2nd and 3rd graders increased their reading proficiency by 11 months;
  • 2nd and 3rd graders improved their reading comprehension by 3.7 book levels; and
  • Grade 3 students improved their mastery of basic math skills by 75%.

“I would recommend the Better Basics program because the volunteers truly have hearts of gold and are extremely dedicated to helping every student improve their education,” Land said. “The results speak for themselves.”

The Better Basics program currently has over 500 volunteers, 15 full- and part-time staff, and various seasonal employees spread across several schools across the city. During the 2021-22 school year, more than 22,000 children were served.

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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