Ready to start school on September 8, 2003, five year old, Aleisha Sargeant, put on her best dress in preparation for the battle of a lifetime. Aleisha would soon face the daily challenge of good versus evil, education versus ignorance, and opportunities versus missed choices. For children in poverty, like Aleisha, and the teacher hoping to make a difference in her life, the fight for literacy offers few second chances.
Since the establishment of reading achievement examinations, at-risk children from Buffalo and across the country have consistently performed poorly. According to federal guidelines, approximately 80% of the children in Buffalo live in poverty; our city’s ranking is third highest in the nation. It is not surprising that children such as Aleisha fall victim to an achievement gap. They are at the greatest risk for school failure. The irony for these children is that they go to schools with the most limited resources. They are often prohibited from taking their books home, due, for instance, to the high cost of textbook replacement. For children like Aleisha, who live in poverty and attend such a school, chances to be successful soon begin to dwindle.
Project FLIGHT learned about Aleisha’s plight in an email written by a teacher from her home at 5:00 am:
“I am a teacher on the East Side of Buffalo. We care so much about our children, but we are having a hard time meeting the standards for many reasons. One of our biggest concerns is lack of any materials for the children to read. Last night, one of the fourth grade teachers was nearly in tears because her children are so far behind. How do you teach reading when there’s nothing to read? (She does have Macmillan for the fourth grade level, but her children cannot read at this level.) It isn’t a matter of intelligence either. They have no preparation; they’ve never been read to. We just need to take them through the process. I told her I would talk to you. I am more than willing to do anything I can to help her children. Just point me in the right direction. Thanks for your time. I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.”
It all starts with a book
The dimensions of Aleisha’s portrait become tragic as one contemplates the stark future for which she is positioned. Researchers agree that educational attainment is one of the strongest predictors of an individual’s success. As reported by Rod Watson, of the Buffalo News, (November 20, 2003) “…according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), kids with lots of books typically score 25% to 30% higher than their peers.” One of Project FLIGHT’s assumptions is that First one learns to read; then, one reads to learn. But, how do our children learn to read when they have limited access to books in the home and at school?
Within 48 hours, Project FLIGHT had delivered 100 books to every single classroom in the school, not just the fourth grades, but to all grades, for a total of 12,000 books. Project FLIGHT’s commitment to helping underprivileged children and families was known to this teacher. In fact, not only has immediate help been given to this school but too many other parents, teachers, and school districts served by Project FLIGHT for over 25 years.