CBS Philly celebrates Black History Month with these profiles of notable Philadelphia “gamechangers,” people and organizations making a difference in the lives of the city’s African-Americans.
By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children is all about literacy.
“Studies show that if a child is not reading well by third grade, their chances of graduating high school is greatly diminished,” says David Florig, WePAC’s executive director. “Early reading and a love of reading is important.”
It’s no secret that Philadelphia’s public schools have had a rough time over the past few years. School district budget cuts have forced many principals to eliminate the position of librarian to save money, which resulted in school library closures.
“In Pennsylvania by law, each of the state prisons is required to have a librarian with a master’s degree and a large collection of up to 5,000 books,” says Florig. “No such requirement exists for schools.”
Over the past 3½ years, WePAC has reopened 16 libraries in elementary schools in West Philadelphia, which have a population that is mainly African-American. Four of those schools have since been shut down, but the remaining 12 have libraries that remain open, manned by WePAC volunteers.
“The schools we’re in have a population of about 5,000 students,” says Florig. “We see about 3,000 of them on a daily basis. We’ve donated about 48,000 books.”
And WePAC volunteers have donated 10,000 service hours, acting as stand-in librarians for kids in grades K through 4.
“It’s amazing the difference a library makes,” says Ellen Scolnic, who has volunteered with WePAC for five years. “This room was here but they had no one to staff it. There are very, very few librarians. If we had more volunteers, we could open more libraries and help more kids.”
“The exposure is really good for them because some of the children don’t read much at home,” says Jennifer Darby, who teaches kindergarten at the Add B. Anderson Elementary School, on South 60th Street in West Philadelphia, where WePAC operates a library.
“It’s critical at this age that they have exposure to letters, sounds,” says Darby. “We give them books to read for homework and then this library exposes them to more literature.”
Florig says he hopes WePAC will not just change the lives of young people one book at a time, but also the fabric of West Philadelphia.
“West Philadelphia was historically the educational and cultural and social hub of Philadelphia,” says Florig. “Over the years that has declined a little bit. We want these children to graduate high school, go onto college, have great careers, and reinvest and open businesses in West Philadelphia, raise families there, and really rebuild the community.”
WePAC also runs a classroom literacy support program for grades K through 2, as well as after-school newspaper clubs for grades 5 through 7.
For more info about WePAC, or to volunteer, go to wepac.org.
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