Guest Post: Connie Williams On The Importance Of Volunteers In The Battle To Flip The Literacy Narrative

The past couple of weeks I’ve been obsessed with the dismal student reading scores coming out of Nashville’s public schools. I’m known be a tad dramatic, but 17.5 percent is a low number no matter what you’re measuring. Further, a number as large as 82.5 percent that represents kids of color not reading at the level expected warrants Broadway-play dramatic. 

Instead, I plan to do my part to flip the statistics and change the narrative by raising awareness and accepting an offer to get in front kids with a book a few times a year. Connie Williams with Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is recruiting volunteers to read to students in select schools around the district. Join me. #FliptheScript.

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If you, like many of us, are discouraged about the latest report on reading levels for Nashville children, I have a suggestion. Be part of the solution.

It’s tempting to sit around and have endless discussions about what others should do differently and who is at fault. The answer is that we are all at fault that 7 out of 10 Nashville children can’t read at grade level, and 8 out of 10 children of color in my wonderful, forward-looking hometown can’t read at grade level. That’s so shameful that I can hardly bear to think about it.

There are many ways that regular people like you and me can help our children, and this fall I’m helping Book’em place volunteers in elementary schools as part of the Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program. RIF volunteers visit a Nashville public school classroom five times during the school year. On each visit, they read a book or two to the class and then they let each child pick out a new book of their own to keep. Volunteers can share their favorite stories, talk about their love of books, and encourage children to read.  

But the most important part is letting the children pick out their own books, provided by Book’em, some of them for the first time. The Handbook of Early Literacy says that in middle income neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1, in low-income neighborhoods the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. I want to think we do better than that in Nashville with Imagination Library for toddlers and pre-schoolers and the best library system in the U.S. in the Nashville Public Library, but I know that the children in RIF classrooms are overjoyed to receive these books and even more excited to be able to pick out the ones they want.

I understand that what we can accomplish as readers and book providers to these precious children is not the magic answer. It’s certainly not as big and shiny as teacher training or teaching methods or parent engagement or more funding or even one-on-one weekly volunteer tutoring in an MNPS Reading Clinic, but I know that it’s meaningful. And it’s something that almost anyone can do.

Are you willing to give 10 hours total of your time to help a classroom of children during this school year? We still need a few more volunteers at Cockrill, Park Avenue, Tom Joy, KIPP Kirkpatrick, Explore, and Dodson schools. Email me to learn more or to sign up at

Connie Williams is the former executive director of Metro Schools’ longtime partner PENCIL Foundation, which is known for its impact on the Nashville community through the creation and nurturing of hundreds of partnerships between business and schools. When not recruiting and training reading volunteers, Ms. Williams teaches at Belmont University.


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