Earlier this year, I published my first children’s book, “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin.” “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin” is a children’s fantasy novel with an African-American lead character: Scott Benjamin. I was inspired to create a children’s book for many reasons. In previous articles, I’ve discussed how my spiritual calling and Hip-Hop were some of the inspirations for my book (click the links for more information). Those posts discussed my motivations to create a children’s book; however, they did not address the experience in my life that created the urgency I needed to see this project through.
NEW BEGINNINGS YOUTH DEVELOPMENT CENTER
One of the primary reasons I wrote, “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin” was my experience teaching at Maya Angelou Academy inside the New Beginnings Youth Development Center. New Beginnings is the only long-term juvenile detention center for Washington D.C. youth.
Being from Prince Georges County, Maryland, I was excited to have the opportunity to teach students with similar backgrounds and experiences as myself. This opportunity showed me the reality of the major issues impacting youth from the D.C. area.
One of the most puzzling truths that I became aware of (others will be explored in future articles) during my experience was discovering that some of my students could not read. When I first started teaching at New Beginnings, I had no expectations for the academic standards of the students. Simply put, I had no idea what I was walking into. But to learn that students, ages 14-21, were either reading below grade level or not able to read at all, I was severely stunned.
In 2015, I chose to transition from my position serving youth at New Beginnings and pursue a Master of Arts in Strategic Communications and Public Relations. Although I was no longer teaching inside of the juvenile detention center, the realities I became aware of haunted me on a daily basis. I dedicated myself to learning, growing, and seeking ways to make a systemic impact on the juvenile justice system. I believe this decision led me directly to my desire to create a children’s book.
LITERACY GAP IN WASHINGTON D.C. SCHOOLS
The literacy gap inside of the juvenile detention center is only a small sample size of a major issue: the literacy gap present in the Washington D.C. school system.
According to the DC Assessment results on the Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA), 75% of students did not meet expectations for English language arts and literacy in the 2015-2016 school year. The same performance summary also revealed the following statistics:
PERFORMANCE SUMMARY (2015-2016 SCHOOL YEAR)
- 75% of students did not meet expectations for English language arts and literacy
- 81% of Black students did not meet expectations in English language arts and literacy
- 78% of males did not meet expectations in English language arts and literacy
- 73% of students in grades 3-8 did not meet expectations in English language arts and literacy
- 75% of students in the District of Columbia who took the Grade 3 test did not meet expectations
KEY SUBJECT AREAS
- 52% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: literary text
- 55% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: informational text
- 53% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: vocabulary
- 63% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: writing expression
- 51% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: knowledge and use of language conventions
- 55 Schools with less than 10% of students meeting expectations in English language arts and literacy
These statistics illustrate the massive literacy gap present within the Washington D.C. school system. This literacy gap is an issue that must be addressed by all stakeholders: parents, teachers, community members and community leaders. My desire to fulfill my responsibility to address the literacy gap for Washington D.C. youth led me to create “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin.” My goal is to provide children with creative materials that will help them fall in love with learning.
In the coming months, I will be launching a campaign to donate 800 copies of “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin” across all eight wards of Washington D.C. 100 copies of my children’s book will be donated to a library, school, or children’s hospital within each of the eight wards in D.C.
For more information or to support the “8 Across 8” campaign, feel free to contact me or visit www.scottiebenjamin.com.