We are proud to have our very own Director of Corporate Social Responsibility featured along with National Geographic’s VP Content- Education and Children’s Media, Jennifer Emmet and Nook’s Chief Bookseller James Mustich in a MediaPlanet Roundtable discussion on the changing face of literacy in the U.S. Presented here is her portion of the conversation with MediaPlanet.
Mediaplanet: How can we utilize advances in technology to promote literacy?
Icema D. Gibbs: Technology is the next frontier for on-the-go engagement. As a partner to several educational entities, we’re able to help them with resources to meet our joint literacy goals. For example, we partner with Random House Children’s Books for our annual Soar with Reading initiative which encourages reading during the summer months. We recently introduced an app to the program, allowing us to enhance the reading experience beyond physical books with digital games and activities that appeal to children.
MP: What are some creative/unexpected ways to foster a love of learning in young children?
IG: You wouldn’t necessarily align an airline with literacy. However, during focus groups and research our customer and crewmembers shared that education is important to them and should be for the brands they support. Our Soar with Reading program provides age-appropriate books to children in underserved areas. We introduce reading in unique ways to our customers and communities. Not only do we provide activities and resources, we engage our customers at all customer touch points including in the community and via our website and inflight entertainment to join us in donating books to kids in need.
As an airline, we actively support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education starting at the grade-school level through the JetBlue Foundation. Tying reading into the world of aviation often lights a spark in young students. After all, reading is at the core of academic success including STEM education.
MP: How have you witnessed literacy efforts change over the past 5 years?
IG: There have been steep declines in literacy. With some reports showing that 33 percent of fourth graders are only reading at or below grade level, access to books is vital. There is a deficit in access to age-appropriate books in poor neighborhoods, with only one book for every 300 children, compared to 13 such books per child in middle-income neighborhood. To help increase access, JetBlue has donated nearly $1 million worth of books, in collaboration with our partners including First Book. Used for educational purposes, technology also makes everything relevant in real-time for students. It is important to utilize these resources in the classroom beyond traditional books.
We are also seeking help from experts in the field to help move the needle and increase access. We commissioned a study in partnership with Dr. Susan B. Neuman, PhD, a specialist in early literacy development whose research includes reading instruction for children living in poverty. She is helping us to dig deeper into the statistics and develop a plan that will really make an impact on literacy in US.
MP: What is the optimal age for literacy acquisition, and what course of action do you suggest to take advantage of that prime learning window?
IG: As a corporate supporter, our education partners have reiterated a need for resources and age-appropriate books. Studies show that children that are read to from the beginning have increased vocabulary and are more successful in school. It is never too early to push literacy. With the nation’s recent report cards reflecting stagnant reading scores for high school seniors, we created our Soar with Reading to encourage and share the gift of reading starting at the pre- and grade-school levels. Education and access to age-appropriate books is very important in building a strong foundation. This includes engaging students through means that they are currently using, including apps and other technology advancements.
MP: How can we make the love of reading a family affair?
IG: The Soar with Reading program was created as a family affair to encourage reading and help children’s imaginations take flight. Soar with Reading provides books to help maintain the knowledge base student’s built during the school year. A great way do this is with the support of family members. We encourage parents to read with their children wherever they are – at the grocery, in the airport, on the bus, it all makes a difference. We also provide interactive resources for the entire family and we also bring literacy to life with free reading events in JetBlue cities throughout the summer.