The former mayor of Trenton, Douglas Palmer, wants childhood literacy to become a top priority in the community.
“We want the residents of Trenton to recognize that we have a crisis,” said Palmer. “If you can’t read, you’re not going to be able to get the kind of jobs you want. As a matter of fact, from kindergarten to third grade, you learn to read. After third grade you read to learn. Trenton’s last statistics a few years ago had 75 percent of third graders who couldn’t read on grade level, and we understand this is a crisis in our community and our city.”
Nationally, 65 percent of fourth graders are reading at a level that is below proficient. In New Jersey, that number is lower at 57 percent, but that’s still more than half the fourth graders in the state.
“I think it’s a combination of things. I think a lot of young people, their parents aren’t reading to them,” said Palmer.
The former mayor says that’s why they want to create an event called “Read All Day, Read All Night.” It’s modeled off the popular event, Art All Night, something created by Artworks Trenton, a nonprofit visual arts center.
“Last year we had over 1,400 artists submit one piece of art for free and we had 25,000 people attend over 24 hours,” recounted Lauren Otis, executive director of Artworks Trenton. “Every year there are plenty of stories of people who started by coming to Art All Night and maybe exhibiting one piece and through that, they found that that was something they wanted to do more.”
Well, that’s the same goal for literacy. And that’s why they plan to have a day devoted to reading with children in the area.
“We want people to come out and read. We want poetry reading, we want young children reading, we want to give books away,” explained Palmer.
When you walk around the gallery space, you’ll see artwork from students as young as 5 years old.
“I think they’re actually more excited about seeing their work on the wall than if it even sells. But just to see their work on the wall and see them next to their work, knowing that next year we’re going to see them again,” said Addison Vincent, exhibit coordinator.
It’s that same level of excitement community members hope to see children have for reading.
When asked if he thought that level of excitement was possible to achieve, Vincent responded: “Oh, by far. If you get them hooked now, young, that’s going to carry through the rest of their life.”
After all, when it comes to both reading and art, the two work hand in hand.
“Some people are visual people, and some people are idea people and some people are word people. But you know what? In your brain, it’s all the same,” explained Otis.
But the former mayor says the school system can’t do it alone.
“That’s why the school system is partnering with us and there is nobody to blame. We all have a role to play,” said Palmer.