How Do We Turn The Page?

I grew up in a two bedroom bungalow at 44th and Montgall, one block east of Prospect Avenue, on the east side of town.  I shared a small bedroom in that house with my two younger brothers, and by the time I had completed my junior year at Bishop Hogan High School, my third brother joined us.  Our parents drilled the importance of education into our heads.  Homework rules were enforced and misconduct in school was not tolerated.

The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth B.V.M. (“Blessed Virgin Mary” on the premises, “Black Veiled Monsters” if you were not) were strong taskmasters.  In retrospect, I am so thankful for that.  Despite being a somewhat mischievous smart aleck and clown, I learned to love reading because of them.

It was difficult in our small house to find a time to be alone.  My brothers were always about, often causing trouble, for which I, as the eldest, would be held responsible for.  I believe my current night owl habits began during this time frame of grade school when I waited impatiently for the time that my brothers and parents would FINALLY go to sleep.

This is when I could be alone.

I waited for the chorus of snores and nighttime noises to begin and from there, I would open the closet door in our bedroom and climb the steps toward the attic door with a book and a flashlight in hand.  I was now in escape mode! Sitting on the wooden steps, behind clothes that hung on a wooden bar in front of me and a closed trap door to the attic above my head.  Laying flat on my back, I was “away” and the pages started to turn.  I LOVED reading Doc Savage novels.  Doc was a superhero, but had no superpowers.  He was called the “Man of Gold” because his skin and hair had a golden hue unlike any other human and his eyes were penetrating.  He was “super” because he honed his body to an extraordinary extent by hours of daily exercises that no one else could do.

He honed his senses until his sight was better than an eagle’s and his smell more sensitive than any predator.  He was a genius, not just in one field, but in engineering, chemistry, medicine… He performed superhuman feats without being superhuman.

He was an extraordinary leader, who protected the weak, and who protected the country.

Although I never left home, for a few hours a night, I was able to travel the world, fighting weird monsters and villains in scary spaces with Doc, and his cohorts Renny & Monk.  Because none of them had superpowers, I felt I could – with a little work and practice – keep up with them.

I could become as smart and brilliant as they were if I worked at it.  They were the perfect heroes after whom I could pattern myself.

I could BE a black Doc Savage.

As I grew older, I continued to travel the world, fight the good fight, and imagine myself greater because of – and through the magical power of – books and reading.

It is why, through United States Marine Corps boot camp, college, law school and now as Mayor, I ALWAYS have a novel going.  Usually it is fiction and often it juxtaposes a hero of extraordinary skill or one who possesses an ability against some dirty rotten scoundrel or villain.

THAT is why I LOVE to read and why I believe in the magical powers of reading.

Turn the Page KC is an initiative that seeks to ensure every third grader in Kansas City can read at or above grade level by the time they end third grade.  This is a major undertaking considering that, collectively, only 33.8% of our third graders are reading proficiently.  Folks, let me say that again: Only 33% of our third graders are reading proficiently.  Here is what we know:

  • 61% of low-income children have no children’s books at home.

  • Poor children hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers.

  • By age 2, poor children are already behind their peers in listening, counting, and other skills essential to literacy.

  • A child’s vocabulary as early as age 3 can predict third grade reading achievement.

  • By age 5, a typical middle-class child recognizes 22 letters of the alphabet, compared to 9 for a child from a low-income family.

  • Prison cells are built based on predictions rooted in THIRD GRADE READING PROFICIENCY.

Combating all this sounds like the work of a superhero, but really anyone can help.

Last month I had the distinct pleasure to welcome Ralph Smith of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to Kansas City.  Over the course of three days, we met with educators, funders, community members and kids – to talk about how we can turn the page in Kansas City by focusing on improving school readiness, preventing summer learning loss, and combating chronic absences.  The video below is a snapshot of our important week together.  It very succinctly details what we know and what we can do about it.

(Turn The Page KC Panel Discussion from LINC on Vimeo.)

We all have to work together among our many schools, early educators,  childcare providers, libraries, businesses, faith communities and most importantly, in each and every family, to change this reality.  Turn the Page KC works with dozens of community partners to try to find the best, most effective interventions to ensure our kids can read, comprehend and enjoy what they’re reading.

This is a broad initiative with many moving parts, but one of the most important parts is the role YOU play.  We need volunteers. Engaged citizens willing to invest in the future of Kansas City.  By volunteering to read with, read to and read by kids in our schools and community programs, you are helping us achieve all that we have set out to accomplish.

Reading with children is not only fun it is rewarding, and it is something that must continue year-round.  Low-income students lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer, while their middle-income peers tend to make gains in reading.  There are a number of programs happening this summer to promote summer learning. Several studies of summer learning programs show that students make statistically significant gains in reading performance.

With you help and your guidance, we can ensure that every child in the Kansas City area is reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade.  When that happens, there is no telling where we as a city will go.

The one thing we are certain of is that when we get involved and commit to the program, we — not unlike the superheroes I knew as a kid — can help make anything possible for our kids.

If you spend a couple of hours a week with a child using these strategies you will help us turn the page in Kansas City and you will help write a new personal reading story for a child that he or she will remember forever.

For more information visit Turn the Page KC.  You can also follow @TurnthePageKC on Twitter and Like Turn The Page KC on Facebook and read more about this important work by visiting the Campaign For Grade-Level Reading.

We can make a difference friends.  We really and truly can turn the page and turn a corner for Kansas City youth.  They will, after all, be the ones who lead this great City into the future and determine what we will be for generations to come.


9 thoughts on “How Do We Turn The Page?

  1. You know my answer to this question–Little Free Libraries! Making some progress to bring these to our neighborhoods so our current kiddos could escape through books like you (and I) did. Sure would love your support!

  2. Wonderful program. Although I don’t have children of my own, Troost Elementary School in past years allowed me the joy of reading to students as a Parents As Teachers Volunteer, and it was so rewarding. It takes a village…Reading is fundamental. Excellent blog. Keep up the good work, Mayor!

  3. Thank you Mayor, for this initiative. Question, have you considered installing “little libraries” throughout our city? These “libraries” are small weatherproof structures situated near a sidewalk in front of someone’s home. That home’s resident(s) is responsible for maintaining the library. This way when a child is walking to/from the bus stop, out walking the dog, running an errand for mom, or just out playing, they can stop by and pick out a book at any time eliminating the need for transportation to the library. Parents are welcome to stop by and grab a book as well. And the best part? If the book disappears never to return to the library? Oh well! No fines for the parents to worry about, no ban on the child checking out more books from the public library.

    Books are donated and/or purchased from thrift stores, library sales, private individuals, etc. The cost to build a little library is minimal and I’ve personally been looking into things that can be re-purposed, such as old news stands – paint them fun colors, make sure they are still weatherproof and voila’! Instant Little Free Library! I contacted someone from the KC Star and they seem uninterested as they receive rebates for old stands. The Pitch seemed interested at first, but later stopped returning my calls. Bottom line is, this would be a great and free way to get tons of new books on a regular basis in the hand of children and their parents.There are some of these already in place by the sole initiative of the resident. There is currently one on about 61st and Holmes and I urge you to stop by, check it out and talk to the homeowners regarding their experience with running the library.

    Thank you for your time,


    Win Jamieson
    For further info on Free Little Libraries

  4. What does this saw about the job the KC School District is doing teaching the kids to read ? After being in school for three years.

  5. Mayor Sly:
    I taught in KCMO early in my career and it has a special place in my heart. I am back home teaching in NC now. I am watching the education reform debacles around the nation and I must say this program looks really strong!! Bravo. I am rooting for you and KCMO.

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