Haverhill Promise Hosts Focus Group With Springfield Early Literacy Leader Fuller

(Left to right) Haverhill School Committee Member Richard Rosa, State Rep. Andy Vargas, School Committee Member Gail Sullivan, The Irene E. & George A. David Foundation Project Head Sally Fuller and school pediatrician Dr. John Maddox discussed the importance of having children achieve full literacy by third grade. (WHAV News photograph)

Haverhill is continuing its effort to have all city students reading at grade level by the end of third grade, calling in assistance from a group who has been in its shoes: Springfield-based Reading Success by 4th Grade.

On Monday, educators and members of the Haverhill School Committee gathered at the Haverhill Public Library for a presentation on the community initiative funded by The Irene E. & George A. David Foundation with the goal of having all children in Springfield reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Several Haverhill city and state leaders, including state Rep. Andy Vargas and school pediatrician Dr. John Maddox, hope to replicate the success of the group closer to home through a cross-sector collaborative called Haverhill Promise.

According to Sally Fuller, the Springfield group's project director, the inspiration for their local initiative began after John Davis, a trustee for the foundation, learned that only 33 percent of city third graders could read at or above grade level. Fuller said Reading Success by 4th Grade soon aligned itself with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, a nationwide initiative promoting early literacy.

With Fuller's guidance, the Haverhill Promise team has prioritized school readiness, summer learning programs and chronic absenteeism, which Fuller says are integral to reading success. Fuller encouraged the city group to push parents to maintain an active role in their child’s ability to read by reading to them at a young age, even if the parent simply makes up a story.

“When a parent interacts with their child around a book, pulls them on their lap, opens the book and makes up a story - it doesn’t have to match the words – and does it over and over and over again, and then begins to talk to that child about the book, that changes outcomes for children,” Fuller said.

Haverhill Promise has already hit the ground running using Fuller's suggestions. One early win for the group is the creation of “Little Libraries” at local businesses, including barbershops, that offer free books for children to read while waiting for their parents at those locations.