STOCKTON (CBS13) – Community leaders in Stockton a taking a stand against low literacy rates in their region. U.S. Department of Education statistics say only one in four Stockton Unified third-graders passed their state English exams.
“If you have younger siblings, you can’t buy them shoes and candy,” said Jagada Chambers, Boys and Men of Color Movement Builder with Fathers and Families of San Joaquin. “Buy them books. Make your little brothers and sisters think it’s cool.”READ MORE: 'We're Angry': Downtown Sacramento Safety Perceptions Impacted After Another Deadly Shooting
Chambers leads one of the organization’s youth groups and calls Stockton’s poor literacy problem an epidemic.
“If that transition doesn’t happen around third grade, it just keeps our children behind,” he said. “What we’re seeing in Stockton now is kids are being pushed along to the next grade but their reading capabilities haven’t improved.”
Fathers and Families of San Joaquin has made it their mission to make reading a priority for their kids. Chamber’s new approach to tackling real life issues with teens starts on paper.
“It’s like a new opportunity to- I’d say to achieve,” said 16-year-old James Keeler.READ MORE: Amador County Fairgrounds Acts As Animal Evacuation Center Amid Electra Fire
The program’s efforts include taking kids to the library, one-on-one reading sessions and a few wise words from mentors like seventh grader Steven Young.
“In 4th grade, I was reading over 2,700,000 words a year, close to 3 million!” he said. “I was so bummed out I didn’t get to it.”
Every year, the 13-year-old collects books with his mother and gives them out to the community for free. Now Young is taking that passion to a bigger scale by joining a youth panel on the importance of reading. He’s eager to spread the word to his peers about what they might be missing.
“There’s a lot of kids out there who set really bad examples,” Young said. “So when we have education we have to take to it.”MORE NEWS: 'Something Different': California GOP's Bid For Governor, Brian Dahle, Hopes To Unseat Newsom
In a few weeks, Fathers and Families of San Joaquin will open up a Literacy Lab. It’ll be an open clinic for reading where children of all ages can show up and build on their skills.