Al Magid’s Reading Is Fun program took a hit this week: the Schenectady Foundation decided not to fund it.
But Magid, a retired University at Albany professor, isn’t giving up on his goal to get every 4-year-old ready for kindergarten.
The statistics from this year’s kindergarten class shocked him so deeply that he said he can’t give up.
By the numbers
775: current Schenectady kindergarten class
272: could not identify a single letter sound in September
1: could identify all the letter sounds in September
54: could not identify a single letter in September
23: could identify all the letters in September
“It’s worse,” he said in disbelief. “You’re not going to believe this. Worse.”
When this year’s 775 students entered kindergarten, 272 children could not identify even one letter sound. Only one child could identify all the letter sounds, including letters that have more than one sound.
“The numbers are appalling,” Magid said. “The need is egregious.”
He wants to organize a team of volunteers to train caregivers on how to encourage pre-reading skills. Those include learning the letter sounds and the alphabet, as well as how to hold a pencil.
“All through the method of play. It has to be fun,” he said.
His original plan had been to pay four Schenectady teachers to train the volunteers this summer. That would have cost $3,000.
He had also hoped to spend $40,000 on books and other materials for the children, and to hire two part-time coordinators to schedule sessions between volunteers and caregivers. In total, he had asked the Schenectady Foundation for $140,000.
Now, he’s going to do it with volunteers, donated books and whatever small cash donations can be collected.
Donations can be made through the Schenectady City School District Educational Foundation, Inc. He’s asking volunteers to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He said he thinks the program will be more likely to get funded once he proves that it is operating successfully.
“There’s no money for start-ups,” he said.
His hope now is to get a few volunteers to work with perhaps 20 children, starting in September. With funding, he had wanted to start with 100 children and 50 volunteers.
“But there’s a tension in me,” he said. “For something like this, I don’t want to turn anyone away. What happens if 300 or 400 people say we want in with our kids?”
He already has support from some potential volunteers and organizations, and has reached out to many families of 4-year-olds through churches, children’s groups and government agencies.
A part of him almost hopes that 400 parents join the program this summer.
“I’m very ambivalent about having 15 or 20 to work with,” he said. “Saving one kid out of 775 ain’t going to do it.
He also wants to organize four reading rallies, one every three months, to keep the parents and kids excited about the program.
“Of course, there’s no money, so I can’t hire coordinators,” he said. “If we could get two [volunteer] coordinators, that’d be wonderful. I mean, I’m doing it pro bono.”
Magid lives in Niskayuna, just over the city line. His wife is a retired Schenectady teacher.