The Empowerment Factory (TEF), in partnership with the Jester & Pharley Phund, has introduced a literacy curriculum for low-income children that combines reading, creativity and kindness. During the Pawtucket School Department’s 2019 summer session, 94 elementary students participated in TEF’s three-week read-a-thon to provide bilingual copies of “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle/El Bufón Ha Perdido Su Gracia”, to pediatric cancer patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. The pilot was sponsored by the Pawtucket Credit Union.

The purpose of the “Reading Makes a Difference Empowerment Project” is to address low performance in English language and literacy. Only 40 percent of Rhode Island third-graders met grade level expectations for reading on the 2018 Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) test, according to the Rhode Island Kids Count Fact Book. Students unable to reach the third-grade proficiency milestone generally fall behind academically and are four times more likely to drop out of high school. According to the Literacy Project Foundation, three out of four people on welfare cannot read. On the other hand, as the literacy rate doubles, the per capita income also doubles.

Each day, the presentation of an illustrated children’s story prompts class discussion about a variety of social and emotional concepts, such as kindness, positive thinking, perseverance and diversity. Followed by a creative activity, for example, discussions about kindness led into card-making to send cheer to hospitalized children.

TEF’s project encourages students to keep a reading log pages read at home. Parents are asked to initial the log entries, which invites reinforcing parent engagement. Teachers also maintain logs of what they read aloud to students during class time.

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Feedback collected from students at the conclusion of the summer pilot were gratifying.
· 70 percent agreed the read-a-thon made them want to read more.
· 68 percent agreed reading books together in class made them want to read more.
· 46 percent claimed to read more than usual with their parents at home.
· 82 percent felt their reading improved as a result of the program.
· 69 percent saw other students being more caring as a result of the program.

Teacher feedback was positive, and the top readers were celebrated for their achievements. TEF donated 30 books and 30 Jester dolls to Lisa Abbenante, executive director of The Tomorrow Fund at the hospital. Looking back on the event, Abbenante commented, “This was the truest and most sincere form of kids helping kids.” Some program highlights are shown in this video:

TEF is a non-profit dedicated to giving youth the skills needed to lead happier, healthier more empowered lives. It focuses on creativity, self-esteem and civic pride. TEF is seeking more corporate sponsors and partners to build upon this success.


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