As schools across the state plan for the coming year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit and community partners, including children’s literacy nonprofit SMART Reading, are adapting their services to meet the changing needs of our state’s children, families and communities.

Research suggests that students will enter the 2020-21 school year with only two-thirds of the typical gains in reading from the previous year.

“With students facing staggering learning losses, reading support will be more critical than ever,” says Jennifer Zardinejad, SMART’s central area manager. “This could have a profound, long-term impact on kids and communities. As we have been for nearly 30 years, SMART Reading is poised to continue empowering kids for reading and learning success through providing access to books for students to keep and reading practice.”

While SMART Reading typically spends the summer preparing to bring more than 5,000 community volunteers into schools for one-on-one reading sessions with over 11,000 pre-K through third-grade students across Oregon, physical distancing and other pandemic-related considerations make in-person reading impossible in the 2020-21 school year.

In response to the changing landscape, the organization has developed two new delivery models that align with safety guidelines from local school districts and the Oregon Department of Education, including:

• Book distribution: Educators, researchers and families affirm that access to books is a crucial way to support children’s literacy. SMART Reading distributed over 33,000 books after schools closed in March, and the organization is building upon those learnings to expand book distribution in 2020-21. Students will continue to have access to new, high-quality, diverse titles from a variety of book publishers that align with SMART’s guidelines.

• Virtual reading: SMART Reading will offer virtual reading sessions, both live and pre-recorded, where volunteers can read books with children and help foster a love of reading. The organization is working on the implementation details, factoring in legalities and security considerations, and incorporating feedback along the way from educators and families. 

“We’re committed to working with our school and community partners to continue ensuring young readers in Central Oregon have the support they need to become strong, confident readers,” said Zardinejad.

SMART Reading plans to engage current volunteers in supporting both program delivery models, but is not currently seeking new volunteers. The organization encourages those interested in supporting young readers to help raise awareness about the importance of this work, or consider making a financial gift to help provide books and virtual reading opportunities.

To learn more about SMART Reading’s plans for 2020-21, visit www.SMARTReading.org/covid-19-program-adaptations.