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Deb Mulrain: Program Director at Literacy Inc. NYC

LINC believes that investing in literacy is the way out of poverty. Their family programs, community programs, and school programs aid in New York City’s literacy crisis by providing simple reading strategies that improve reading, speaking, and writing skills. LINC is hosting a virtual gala to celebrate their 25th anniversary on May 26th, and you can join the fun here.

Can you tell us about community powered literacy?

When I first started at LINC, we realized that a lot of children weren’t reading at their grade level. Our founder believes that reading is a matter of practice. If kids have fun reading, they will want to read. Our vision of LINC is to go into communities and make reading fun. We share the importance of reading and we talk to families about helping their children read because parents have a lot of power in helping kids succeed. Our programs are designed around what kids like, so we have animal celebrations each month where we read about an animal, get costumes, play games, and get the kids excited about reading about new topics. It’s simple— when reading is fun, kids read better.

How can we, as a society, prioritize literacy in our education system?

The pandemic really highlighted the importance of this issue for so many people since a lot of kids fell behind in their reading level. At a basic level, adults need to read in front of their kids because kids will then want to do that same action. It’s up to parents to surround their kids with reading materials wherever they go, whether it’s books, magazines, newspapers, or anything else they can read. We all should engage kids in the conversation about reading. What have they read recently? What did they find interesting about it? What do they want to read about next?

Can you explain the word gap between income levels?

There is about a 50,000 word difference between an affluent or middle class child and a child coming from a poor, underserved neighborhood. We can help combat this by simply talking to our children. There are words that we use on a daily basis to talk, there are words we use that are specific to our careers, and there are words that we only know because we read. Those words, which aren’t commonly spoken, comprise a lot of the words that lower income levels don’t know. It elevates one’s vocabulary to be reading and around people who read and use advanced vocabulary words.

Congratulations on your 25th anniversary! What do you hope to accomplish in the next 25 years?

We are hoping to have more children come into school ready to learn. In the past, by the time kids hit the 2nd grade they were already behind if they weren't being read to at home. We focus on working with kids aged 0-5, but parents are our real target here. We can help them understand the importance of speaking to their children in detail so the kids can learn new vocabulary. Looking ahead, we will continue to push our five foundations of early literacy and keep sharing information with parents about how children learn and develop so they can be well informed. There are so many kids who come to school not knowing their numbers and letters, and we want that to change. Simple actions like keeping magnets on the fridge, talking about foods in the supermarket, and discussing shapes of objects you pass in the car can make a world of difference.


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