Mayor's Book Clubs: Promoting Early Literacy in New Jersey

ayor’s Book Clubs: Promoting Early Literacy in New Jersey was a joint project of the YEF Institute and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJLM) supported by the Verizon Foundation. The project provided technical assistance strengthened the capacity of mayors to support early literacy in their communities.

Background
The early years of children's lives are critical to learning and healthy development. Children who fall behind and do not become readers by the end of third grade may never catch up to their peers or achieve grade-level reading proficiency. The long-term consequences of these diminished achievement levels are well documented and potentially devastating, both for children and the communities in which they live.

A Mayor's Book Club initiative is designed to advance municipal leadership in promoting early literacy and school readiness. Cities typically target families of three- and four-year-old children for participation in the program, which often includes: access to community-based early childhood supports, free literacy materials for families including books for children; parent education classes; and events such as public book readings by the mayor. The underlying premise is that Mayor's Book Clubs expose young children and their parents to the importance of early reading and increases the likelihood that children grow up in an environment where books are available and literacy is valued.

This innovative model also helps parents understand the importance of early education through an appealing, non-stigmatizing approach. At the same time, it provides mayors and other city officials an easily branded and replicated vehicle for highlighting the importance of early literacy, organizing a broader array of strategies to promote school readiness, and increasing civic engagement within their communities.

The YEF Institute has engaged in ongoing efforts to increase early childhood success by promoting school readiness at the local level. Recognizing the success of the Mayor's Book Club model in cities such as Jacksonville, Fla. and Charleston, S.C., the Institute has embarked on a partnership with NJLM - a state municipal league with a strong interest in early literacy through its NJLM Educational Foundation - to focus on this emerging strategy in seven New Jersey cities.

The selected cities included: Clifton, Hightstown, Hope Township, Jersey City, Mount Arlington, Neptune Township and Trenton. Pleasantville joined the project in January 2010.

Major Project Activities
Throughout the project, the YEF Institute assisted each city team in the development of a detailed Mayor's Book Club action plan that meets the needs of local families and is based on best practices. The plans identified the city's goals, as well as concrete action steps for meeting those goals.

The project included:

  • Cross-city peer exchanges through monthly conference calls and web seminars on key topics related to promoting school readiness through early literacy;
  • One-on-one guidance through individual calls and emails with city teams;
  • Facilitated connections between project cities and national experts and resources;
  • Assistance with planning and promoting launches or other events related to Mayor's Book Club initiatives; and
  • A cross-site convening in September 2009 which provided an opportunity for participants to share ideas and challenges with each other and to learn from experts in the field and additional cities engaged in similar efforts.