Mayor's Third Grade Reading Initiative Earns Kansas City All-American Distinction

Jun 20, 2017

Growing up, Kansas City Mayor Sly James had to wait for his younger brothers to go to bed before he could read.

“I would sit on the attic steps with a flashlight and read Doc Savage books,” James said Tuesday as he accepted an All-American City Award for his efforts to promote reading. “It was my ritual.”

The mayor was appalled to learn in 2011 that only 33.8 percent of Kansas City students could read proficiently by third grade.

“That’s astounding,” James said. “Absolutely astounding. What I didn’t understand was why there weren’t people in the streets arguing and fighting and raising Cain about it.”

In March, Turn the Page KC opened an early learning hub where parents could read to their kids. Mayor Sly James read 'Our Home, Kansas City' to preschoolers from Operation Breakthrough.
Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

So James founded Turn the Page KC. Today, five years later, 53 percent of Kansas City third graders are reading at grade level.

James said a lot of the credit for the All-American City Award belonged to Turn the Page KC Executive Director Mike English and the many partner organizations that send adults into schools to read with kids.

“The benefits of Turn the Page are not just that we’re teaching kids to read, but in the process, we’re also showing them that there are people who care enough about them to show up every week,” James said.

Then he was off to read to 1,000 kids participating in a Turn the Page KC-sponsored Summer Learning Celebration at the Sprint Center.

Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.