Detroit’s Riverfront Conservancy hosts annual ‘Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront’

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As of 2021, 39,809 students between the ages of five and nine were enrolled in school in the city of Detroit. Moreover, according to Data Driven Detroit (D3), only 12% of third grade students met the English Language Arts standards. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of students in fourth grade in Detroit who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 7% in 2019. 

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy with the help from General Motors and the Detroit Public Library have conducted “Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront” which takes place from July 6 through Aug 11 every Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to noon. At Gabriel Richard Park on the Detroit Riverfront, this event holds live interactive family-friendly entertainment such as a live performance from Gincy Hartin, a reading led by a community leader, and a free book for each participant. 

Mark Wallace, President and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy said just how special this yearly event is to him.

“I’ve brought my children here for the past four years now and it’s always an adventure,” Wallace said. “They have the time of their lives, running up and down the riverwalk…and when we put them to bed that night, reading their new books, of course, I remember how grateful I am to have an event like this for other children to enjoy just as much as they do.”

This event held in Detroit represents a unique and innovative approach to promoting literacy in the summer months for ages zero to 11. The collaborative event brings together music and learning to create an engaging and educational experience for young attendees. 

Each year, the event is aimed to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and reading in personal development, education, and community growth. About 100 kids show up for each of the four sessions that take place each week. 

Founder, Renée Rodriguez, began integrating music and literacy together 13 years ago.

“It really aims to demonstrate that learning can be both enjoyable and enriching. Throughout the years, we’ve been able to provide 25,000 free books to children up to 11 years of age…and some have built their own personal libraries with the books they gather over the years,” Rodriguez said.

With the help from Detroit Public Library and General Motors, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is able to provide various opportunities for children to come together and learn.

Tanné Williams, a volunteer for the Conservancy has the job of walking children through a stand-up bus with taxidermied animals of Michigan, with facts about each creature in there.

“It’s funny, really, seeing the reactions on the kids’ faces when they see the fox or the beaver on the shelf there,” Williams said. “They always try to touch it, too, which of course isn’t allowed.”

Various interactive workshops were laid out throughout the park such as painting and coloring, reading corners, play-doh and other crafts. Summer camp organizer, Terry Charleston, brought nearly 60 children from his summer day camp to the Riverfront to enjoy the event and the activities it provides.

Campers getting ready for the show, eating their free lunches. Photo by: Jenna Hummel

“Of course, I have, like, volunteers and parents who help rally the kids together and chaperones to come with us on the buses and whatnot, but we come back every year, and every year the kids are just as excited as the last,” Charleston said. “They run around, dance with the performer, get their free lunches and go home with a free book!”

Rodriguez mentions that, of course, she wants the children to have a good time. But the main objective is to get the kids excited about reading and what it has to offer and to remind them just how important it is, especially in effort to combat the low literacy rates in the city. 

Beyond Basics, a program designed to aid students in their reading and writing abilities, found in their longitudinal study that students who participated in the Beyond Basics program experienced reading improvement of one and a half grade levels. There was a table stationed representing their program at Reading & Rhythm.

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