Cincinnati Partnership Helps Youth with Reading Comprehension, Develops Skills of Future Criminal Justice Professionals
Police officers run to the front lines of communities in need – whether it’s for helping with disaster relief, providing safety and security at events, mitigating crime, or keeping streets safe. That’s nothing new for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, Officer Donald Jordan, and the entire Cincinnati Police Department (CPD).
But they also make a positive impact in places that Cincinnatians may not see or think about, such as with Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS). Part of a community policing strategy, the CPD has partnered with UC’s Criminal Justice student interns and administration at five Cincinnati-area schools to provide reading help to third graders though the CPD’s Right to Read program. Launched in 2014 and led by Officer Jordan, the Right to Read program focuses on helping students who are identified as candidates for extra help through the Ohio Department of Education’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee program. The State’s reading guarantee program ensures that third graders are evaluated for reading skills, and if they appear to be falling behind, the school establishes a reading improvement plan for those in need.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, “Except for those with special circumstances, students must meet a minimum score on the state reading test to move on to the fourth grade.”
Research shows that children who are not reading at a third-grade level by the end of grade 3 are likely to have trouble learning in all classroom subjects throughout their time in school.
“We are striving to increase students’ reading abilities,” said Officer Jordan, who visits every classroom that the CDP and UC criminal justice students work in for Right to Read.
Officer Jordan’s inspiration was not only his 6-year-old son who is in first grade, but also his son’s peers who influence each other greatly. He realized that to help the greater good and make the biggest impact, helping as many children as possible – especially those who may not get extra reading help at home – is paramount. “I want to help as many kids as possible,” he said.
In addition to helping Cincinnati youth, the Right to Read program encourages UC School of Criminal Justice student interns to gain understanding and empathy for a population that they may not have access or exposure to on a regular basis.
“We also want this program to help future police officers, judges, and lawyers – our UC student interns who are the future of our city,” Officer Jordan said.
The goals of the partnership program are interrelated and mutually beneficial: striving to keep youth out of the criminal justice system by providing support early on, while also helping future criminal justice professionals develop additional skills and perspective.
“Chief Blackwell has been at the forefront of this initiative,” said Officer Jordan. “This is an example of the creative thinking that he encourages us to do to help solve issues.”
In addition to UC’s School of Criminal Justice, community organizations, churches, and volunteer groups have been involved with the schools and help drive the success that students are seeing with their reading test scores. At Rockdale Academy, one of the five schools in the Right to Read program, the third grade reading score improved from 52.6 percent to 77.5 percent and every third grader passed the state test last year with the exception of just one student.
UC criminal justice senior Kevin Falkler knew he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement since his first ride along when he was 18-years-old, but he didn’t expect that part of his CJ internship would immerse him in a classroom to help children with reading comprehension. Exceeding his expectations, the internship and his involvement with Right to Read has taught him a lot about himself and the community he’s helping.
“I admit, I was skeptical about my placement at first because I don’t think of myself as being ‘good with children,’ but I saw Officer Jordan’s passion for helping and how rewarding the experience could be,” Falkler said. “I think this is one of the best programs out there.”
Falkler has not only gained real-world experience working alongside police officers in ride-alongs, but also he now has valuable experience in community policing.
“I’ve learned the importance of having patience and understanding about where people come from – with backgrounds that may be different from yours,” he added. “I get such fulfillment from the time I spend with the students. Every day I leave the school I think it’s been a good day; we are helping to make a difference.”