Reading is the foundation of just about everything you may need or want in life. Yet literacy is a skill that can be taken for granted by Americans who didn’t have to struggle to achieve it, for themselves or their families.
Equity 4 LI Youth, an organization founded by Patrick Pizzo, the assistant superintendant for business and finance in the East Meadow School District, hosted a panel discussion, in collaboration with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at the East Meadow Public Library last week, following the screening of the documentary “The Right to Read.”
The film “shares the stories of an NAACP activist, a teacher, and two American families who fight to provide our youngest generation with the most foundational indicator of life-long success: the ability to read,” according to its description on the RightToReadFilm.org.
Pizzo, Equity 4 LI Youth’s president, led the Sept. 19 event.
The organization is committed to empowering underserved youth through opportunity, mentorship, community resources and equity. At the panel event, it hoped to shed light on issues affecting those young people.
The panel included Dafny Irizarry, president of the Long Island Latino Teachers Association, Equity 4 LI Youth Committee Chair Arnold Dodge, and Leslie Pieters-Klatsky, the education chair of NAACP Freeport Roosevelt.
“The Right to Read” reported that in 2022, 37 percent of fourth-grade students in the United States were reading below proficiency levels, a problem that is attributed to racial disparities in education systems across the county. The goal of the film, and the discussion that followed, was simple.
“This is a call to mobilize,” Irizarry said. “Individually, to us as educators, as parents, as community members. But this is a call to us, too. We’ve got to do something. And we know the answers are not in the schools.”
“How can we empower parents to speak up?” Pieters-Klatsky asked. “Who would be willing — what parents would be willing to question, just because they just want to know some of the programs the district would get for the curriculum, and ‘this is what we’re going to do with teachers.’”
The main question from those in the audience was simple: How can this mobilization be done? The resounding response from panelists was that it’s complicated.
“There is not one way to do any of this,” Dodge, who’s also a retired school superintendent and a professor at Long Island University said. “This is such a complex issue —how do we go to the next phase? We start with meetings like this, where people are willing to take some time, take a deep breath and look at each other, and say ‘I don’t agree with you’ and ‘Tell me why.’”
While the screening of “The Right to Read” and discussions about the film can help, the dedication of educators and community groups advocating for familial involvement in reading education from a young age is essential.
Community groups, and others interested in the issue, can request screenings of “The Right To Read,” at institutions near them, online at TheRightToReadFilm.org.
For more on Equity 4 LI Youth and its programs, go to Equity4LIYouth.org.