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Can Reading For Fun Go Viral?

A dad reading to his newborn as part of the #CLELiteracy campaign

A quiet crisis in literacy has hold of Cleveland, Ohio. A staggering 80 percent of incoming kindergartners are unprepared for school. Twenty-five percent of residents over 25 lack a high school diploma. A full 40 percent of third graders are not reading at grade level.

“When we’re out and we’re talking about these numbers, people’s jaws drop,” said Robert Paponetti, executive director of the Literacy Cooperative, a small Cleveland nonprofit working to improve literacy.  “We really needed to have an answer when people asked, ‘What can I do to help?'”

The Cooperative’s top 10 list is a start. Released last month, it is an accessible call to action for Northeast Ohioans to commit to improving literacy in their own backyard, whether as a volunteer tutor (#2) or by joining the Little Free Library movement (#8).

 “People throw the ‘call to action’ around frivolously,” Paponetti said. “It’s heavy on the call but light on the action. Here, we tried to be very explicit about how people could get involved.”

Former Plain Dealer newspaper columnist Margaret Bernstein, who helped develop the top 10 list, is actively promoting the list – online and on the pavement. Take, for instance, option #3: the 20 minutes a day reading challenge. Using the hashtag #CLELiteracy, Bernstein is encouraging parents to tweet photos or Instagram themselves reading to their children.

The goal, she said, is to make good reading habits popular, “replacing some of the nonsense [on social media] with something of substance.”

The social media campaign is heating up, with the hashtag reaching more than 20,000 people in the past week. Other organizations are also using the #CLELiteracy hashtag to share videos, photos and tips, all promoting literacy.

Bernstein said the momentum makes her optimistic that the community is attacking its literacy crisis. “That is my hope – that young parents see so many of their peers reading to their kids and they think, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s something I need to be doing.’ It’s positive peer pressure.”

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