PATERSON, NJ- City and school official were joined by several local organizations and education activists on Monday to announce an overhaul to the Paterson Reads program.

The goal, speakers said, is get every Paterson child to read on grade level by the end of the 3rd grade.

Established in 2012 by The Paterson Education Fund (PEF), Paterson Reads is part of the National Grade Level Reading Campaign. The overhaul promises further collaboration between and among the Administration of Mayor Andre Sayegh, Paterson Public Schools, and the Paterson Public Library. 

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Paterson’s First Lady, Farhanna Balgahoom Sayegh, will take point on a new push for public engagement with the program.

“It takes a village,” said Superintendent Eileen Shafer. In seeking the aid of such an extensive list of community partners, the city is hoping this adage will ring true.

A new $100,000 grant from the The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation awarded to Paterson Reads for “strategic planning and design” will drive the revamped initiative. The money will be used to hire a marketing firm, Amplify, as well as to hire a new staff member solely dedicated to Paterson Reads. 

In its current form, Paterson Reads has sought to raise literacy rates through a wide array of programs aimed at helping not only literacy, but the “whole child,” which, as Executive Director of PEF Rosie Grant puts it, includes nutrition and health, as well as social and emotional well-being. This boils down to a set of four stated strategies: improved attendance, increased summer reading, early literacy, and improved health.

Sponsored by at least 10 community agencies and 20 preschools, these initiatives include putting bookcases in salons and churches, an extensive summer learning program, and providing literacy kits for pediatricians to distribute as part of their welfare packages. 

While speakers said changes in standardized testing and measurements have made it difficult to fully analyze the impact Paterson Reads, has had on the community, they reported that early results have been promising.

According to Paterson Kids Count, a publication by Advocates for Children of New Jersey which compiles statistics for Paterson students, reading scores at the end of 3rd grade have increased by 19% since Paterson Reads first began. Grant estimates that so far the program has reached almost 5,000 children, a number they hope to grow exponentially. 

The ultimate success, Shafer said, will be evident when “our Paterson readers become tomorrow’s leaders.”

Though PEF is waiting to compile input from all of its community contributors before it can give a full picture of what the new overhaul will look like, the first goal of the effort will be to account for all current programming and “brand it so that they’re all clearly under the ‘Paterson Reads’ umbrella,” says Grant. In doing this, the city hopes to increase public engagement and possibly attract new partners to the cause.

Another major part of the new initiative will be to increase parental engagement in Paterson. Saying that they are the “secret sauce” in the recipe for a strong education, First Lady Balgahoom Sayegh believes Paterson Reads needs “to get parents behind us in a big way.”

To do this, Paterson Reads is launching a new social media initiative in hopes of “spending time where parents are spending time,” says Balgahoom Sayegh.


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