Academic Support and Literacy


  • 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionallyilliterate.
  • Illiteracy and crime are closely related.  The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.”  Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.
  • Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help.  This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juveniles.
  • 43% of people with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty
  • 17% of people with the lowest literacy skills receive food stamps
  • 70% of people with the lowest literacy skills have no full or part-time job


  • Assessment of reading ability
  • Development of individual literacy goals
  • Structured small group reading time using high-interest/low readability materials
  • Readers Theater used to encourage fluency and reading with expression
  • Incentives to encourage reading in free time
  • Classroom, Inc. (virtual workplace software) – used to promote literacy and math skills, teamwork, analysis
  • Ongoing program development and evaluation


  • Increased interest in books and pleasure reading
  • Increased participation in the school classroom
  • More positive attitude toward reading
  • Increased time spent reading
  • Improved reading skills
  • Improved academic performance
  • More positive attitude toward school


  • Participants will graduate from high school or complete their GED
  • Participants will attend college or find gainful employment
  • Participants will become life-long readers
  • Participants will be productive and contributing members of the community

Youth get excited about reading in Foundation Reading Program

A half-dozen teenaged boys lean back in their chairs in a small classroom, books in hand.

Shelia Brown, retired special education teacher, provides top-notch instruction for the residents of the Westhaven Boys Home.

“So why do you think the author chose to kill off Kasim? Asks their instructor, Sheila Brown. “And why is Kasim’s death ironic?”

The boys, who live at a group home of Tidewater Youth Services Commission, offer their observations about the book they have been reading aloud, “Turf War.” While living at the home, they meet three times weekly in the agency’s Airline Boulevard office and work with top-notch special ed teachers to improve their reading and other competencies.

Although this class began as a tutoring program to help Commission youth with their homework after school, it has become primarily a literacy class. Grants from the TowneBank Foundation, Dominion Resources, Titmus Foundation, Portsmouth Community Foundation, and the Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation have made it possible to provide this important service. The program currently serves group home residents, but the Foundation plans to expand the program to serve clients who live in their own homes and need transportation in order to participate.

And the kids love this program.

One of a series of “high interest, low reading level” novels set in an inner city neighborhood, the book, “Turf War” engages the boys in surprising ways. Unlike the old beginner “Dick-and-Jane” books of yesteryear or currently popular books aimed at younger readers, these special “novels for struggling readers” are based on experiences relevant to teens. The “HIP” reading series is carefully controlled at a grade 2 to 4 reading level, but plots include realistic “edgy” subject matter such as gangs, drug use and peer pressure.

“I didn’t like to read, but the books got my attention,” says one teen.

“I was pleasantly surprised that the young people enjoy the subject matter and how much it encourages them to read,” says Brown. “It is hard to get these kids interested in reading, but the books we use have been classroom tested and have received rave reviews.”

Literacy is an important skill in preventing youth from further problems involving the criminal justice system, Brown points out. According to the National Institute of Literacy, 70 percent of all adult prisoners function at the two lowest literacy levels. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that less educated inmates are more likely to be recidivists.

The book series used by the Foundation tutoring program come with instructor’s guides with activities that teach youth how to analyze fiction. Sometimes activities involve learning to do research online, as they did when reading a book about the Arctic Inuit population in “Caught in the Blizzard.” Another favorite activity is “readers’ theatre,” such as in the book “Student Narc,” in which a portion of the story is read from a script and performed like a play.

“I never had to force anyone to take a part,” Brown says. “They loved the script.”

Since the subject matter is often relevant to what’s going on in their lives without being personal, the kids often are able to open up and talk about issues that are affecting them without disclosing more than they are comfortable doing otherwise, says Brown.

“They can talk about it because they have some of it in their lives,” she says. “They can relate because they have peers or friends experiencing some of the same problems as the characters.”

“Our goal was to get the youth hooked on reading, and we’re succeeding,” says Brown.

How you, your company or your organization can help this program continue:

  • Provide small incentives – for ideas contact [email protected]
  • Pay for one hour of a small group session: $25
  • Cover the personnel costs for the four-week summer program: $1,800
  • Sponsor the purchase of library books for the program: $600